Winter in Windsor part 3: what the papers didn’t say

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 4:24 pm, 13 February 2012]

In part 1 of this series I tried to find out what disparaging things Henry Marten said about the Earl of Essex on 5 December 1642. In part 2 I showed how criticism of Essex was probably unfair. Now in the final part I’m going to look at what the London press were saying. (Working on these posts always earworms me with ‘A Woman in Winter’ by The Skids: good thing or bad thing?)

Although Marten had spoken in front of lots of MPs in the House of Commons, and some of them noted it in their diaries, news of the controversy wasn’t published outside Parliament. It was an established tradition that what went on in Parliament wasn’t to be revealed to the general public, even though members claimed to be looking after the public interest, and this was still more or less holding up despite all the crazy things that happened in 1642. In 1643 leaks became much more common, and different factions in Parliament used the press to attack each other and advance their own agendas (see Peacey, Politicians & Pamphleteers for lots of examples). The weekly newsbooks covering 5 December 1642 mentioned that news had been received from Yorkshire and Devon but there seems to be no consensus about whether the news was good or bad. They didn’t criticize Essex, and some claimed that he was about to attack the enemy, or that he already had.

A continuation of certaine speciall and remarkable passages from both houses of Parliament (E.244[5]) reported news from Yorkshire and Devon but put a positive spin on it rather than treating it as a disaster. It also claimed that Essex had defeated the royalists at Reading. Near the end it said ‘This night the Earle of Holland, the Earle of Pembroke, the Earle of Northumberland, the Lord Say and the Lord Wharton that went down to Windsor are expected to return again to Parliament’ but didn’t say anything about why they had gone there.

England’s memorable accidents (E.244[9]) wrote under 6 December (p. 107), ‘The Lord Generall being furnished with money and other necessaries, is advancing now towards the Enemie’ but for 9 December (p. 111) admitted ‘The Lord Generall with his Foot and Ordnance continue still at Windsor, because they cannot march this winter; but all his horse and Dragoneers are sent out in severall Parts to intrap the Cavalliers and to restraine their pillaging’.

A perfect diurnall of the passages in Parliament (E.244[7]) reported that contradictory letters had come to Parliament from Yorkshire, one saying that the Earl of Newcastle had relieved York unopposed and the other that Sir John Hotham had defeated him.

Speciall passages and certain informations (E.129[5]) mentions news from Yorkshire and Devon, and says that ‘The Lord Generall marcheth to morrow from Windsor, the greatest part of his Army being a dayes march before him’.

There were some even bigger claims about Essex’s exploits in one-off pamphlets.

Another famous victorie obtained by his Excellencie the Earle of Essex (E.129[6]) claimed that Essex had inflicted heavy casualties on the royalists and captured Henley and Marlow on 2 December.

A true relation of the proceedings of His Excellence the Earle of Essex, with his army, since his departure from these parts, in pursutie of the cavaliers (E.129[12]), collected by Thomason on 8 December, told an unlikely story of John Hampden having besieged and captured Reading (which wasn’t actually recaptured by Parliament until April 1643).

The title of Exceeding joyfull newes from the Earl of Essex being a true and reall relation of his incompassing the Kings army neare the citty of Oxford, Decemb. 7. and the great skirmish which they had at the same time… (E.129[25]) says it all. This pamphlet claims that Essex had left Windsor on 5 December and had managed to surround the King’s army at Oxford within two days!

Some of these stories are blatantly false, and others must at least be exaggerated. It looks like there was huge demand in London for news of victories, and if there wasn’t any then pamphlet writers were willing and able to make it up. It seems like the writers and their audiences still want to believe that Essex is doing great things. He hasn’t become unpopular yet, and no-one is openly criticizing him in public.


Winter in Windsor part 2: poor excuses or double standards?

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 10:28 am, 19 December 2011]

Previously I wrote about how Henry Marten criticized the Earl of Essex for keeping his army in winter quarters at Windsor in December 1642. It took a whole post just to establish what Marten (probably) said. But did he know what he was talking about, and was the criticism fair?

Henry Marten had no military experience before the outbreak of the First Civil War. That didn’t automatically mean that he was going to be inept. Oliver Cromwell had no previous experience of war either, and he turned out to be very good at it (as I pointed out here, not a super-special genius, but he could hold his own against professional soldiers of similar rank). Marten seems to have been strongly opposed to the monarchy and the House of Lords from very early in his political career, and in 1642 he was a very active supporter of the parliamentary war effort. He used his inherited wealth to pay spies, which along with his extravagant personal spending eventually bankrupted him (Barber, Revolutionary Rogue, 4-5, 36, 39-40). His first military command was as governor of Reading but he abandoned the town without fighting when the King’s army approached in November 1642 (Waters, Henry Marten, 17). This fact alone makes it look a bit hypocritical of him to complain about Essex not fighting, but that wouldn’t undermine the point if it was a good argument.

Marten’s basic facts were correct: there was action in Yorkshire and Devon while Essex’s army was inactive at Windsor. But he wasn’t comparing like with like. Most of the forces which were fighting in the north and west were very new. Cornwall wasn’t secured for the King until the Cornish rising in early October, and Hopton’s first (failed) attempt to invade Devon was only made in November (Stoyle, Soldiers and Strangers, 40, 43). Lord Fairfax, Parliament’s commander in the West Riding of Yorkshire, had agreed to a neutrality pact in September and didn’t start raising his army until October. Newcastle’s ‘popish’ army didn’t invade Yorkshire until 1 December (Hopper, Black Tom, 26-8, 36). These forces were only just starting their first campaigns when Essex had finished his. Parliament had started raising its main army in June 1642 and appointed Essex as general in July. He set out with the army in September, advancing to Worcester and fighting a cavalry skirmish at Powicke Bridge. On 23 October Essex’s army fought the King’s main army at Edgehill in the first major battle of the First Civil War. After a few days of rest at Northampton, Essex rushed his army south to block the King’s approach to London. He arrived just in time, and although some of his infantry were wiped out by Prince Rupert at Brentford, the main body of the army linked up with the London Trained Bands at Turnham Green. The King decided not to fight when the weight of numbers was against him and retreated to Oxford. It was only after this that Essex settled at Windsor. His army had been on campaign for three months, fighting battles before the northern and western forces had done anything, or even before they existed. A period of rest and recovery in a safe place was probably necessary.

Even when they were completed, the armies fighting in Yorkshire and Devon were significantly smaller than the main armies in the Thames Valley. The best recent calculations put both armies at Edgehill at similar strengths with about 10,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry each (Graham, ‘Earl of Essex‘, 282, 288-9). They also had large artillery trains. Newcastle’s army was the most comparable, but at 8,000 men in total was still only 2/3 the size. The remaining forces were even weaker. Hopton’s Cornish army was only 3,000 strong, and Lord Fairfax had only 2,000 men (Stoyle, Soldiers and Strangers, 43; Hopper, Black Tom, 36). Moving and quartering were much easier with a small army than with a big one, especially when rain made the roads muddy and cold made it more necessary for soldiers to sleep indoors. Transporting heavy artillery was a particular problem if there was too much mud. So why not leave it behind? Essex and the King had both made their winter quarters in strong defensive positions. Essex’s headquarters were at Windsor castle, and the King was at Oxford, safely situated between two rivers. If either army advanced it would need heavy artillery if the other wouldn’t come out and fight in the open. Since advancing, especially with an artillery train, was very difficult it made sense for both armies to stay in their winter quarters and prepare for the next year, which is what they did. It’s also possible that Essex’s army was suffering from desertion and shortages of money and horses (although the jury is still out on Parliament’s financial situation after Edgehill), but even without that there was no good reason to expect the army to advance in the middle of winter.

Winter in Windsor

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 1:51 pm, 5 December 2011]

On 5 December 1642 Henry Marten (MP for Berkshire and a well-known radical extremist) made a speech in the House of Commons which criticized the Earl of Essex, commander of Parliament’s main army, which was in winter quarters at Windsor. But what did he say? Several books in my collection mention the incident but they don’t always say the same thing.

Here are the references and quotes. References in square brackets are the sources cited by the author:

J. H. Hexter, The Reign of King Pym (Cambridge, MA, 1941), p. 110 [British Library, Harleian manuscript 164, f. 243]:

The cry without the walls found echoes in the House of Commons, as some of the fiery spirits began to cry down the Lord General. Martin attacked him openly, contrasting the military successes in the north and west with the Earl’s immobility near London in December. “It is summer in Devonshire, summer in Yorkshire and only winter at Windsor,” where the general was in quarters. Hoyle seconded Martin hinting that Essex’s slowness and carelessness would ruin the kingdom. Suspicions of the Earl’s integrity, groundless as they were, “had already taken birth”…

Vernon F. Snow, Essex the Rebel: the Life of Robert Devereux, the Third Earl of Essex 1591-1646 (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1970), p. 349 [Hexter, King Pym, p. 110]:

The war party in the Lower House and London disapproved of Essex’s reluctance to take the initiative and give battle. Radical Henry Marten disparaged Essex when he asserted, “It is summer in Devonshire, summer in Yorkshire and cold winter in Windsor.”

Ivor Waters, Henry Marten and the Long Parliament (Chepstow, 1976), p. 17 [nothing]:

Essex delayed in Windsor, and on December 5th. Henry Marten stood up in the House to describe the royalist victories all over England and attack the dilatory Captain-General who, he alleged, “would have it was summer in Devonshire, summer in Yorkshire, and early winter at Windsor”.

Sarah Barber, A Revolutionary Rogue: Henry Marten and the English Republic (Stroud, 2000): doesn’t mention the incident at all, which is kind of strange for a biography of Henry Marten.

Ian Gentles, The English Revolution and the Wars in the Three Kingdoms, 1638-1652 (London, 2007), p. 159 [BL Harl. 164, f. 243]:

The almost unrelieved gloom induced by these despatches from the north, south and south-west prompted the hard-line war party member Henry Marten, ‘whose custom it was to bark at everybody’, to voice the first public dissatisfaction with the Earl of Essex’s leadership. Referring to his stationary presence at Windsor Marten declared rhetorically ‘that all these miseries proceeded from his slowness… It was summer in Devonshire, summer in Yorkshire and only winter at Windsor; and therefore desired that we might speedily send to the Lord General to move forward.’

Harleian manuscript 164 is the diary of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, MP for Sudbury in Suffolk. He usually took a moderate conservative position and opposed anything to do with fighting the civil war. This is my transcript of the relevant passage:

Mr Henry Marten stood upp whose custome it was to barke at everie bodie & fell upon the Earle of Essex Lord generall being at windsor: saying, that all these miseries proceeded from his slownes, that wee saw it was summer in Devonshire, summer in yorkeshire & onlie winter at Windsor; & therefore desired that wee might speedelie send to the Lord General to move forward. Alderman Hoile of yorke seconded him; & saied that unless the saied Lord Generall used more care & speed the kingdome would be ruined: but S[i]r Gilbert Gerrard & others excused him that what hee did was by advise of a councell of warre & soe the matter was laied aside for the present

So Ian Gentles wins for quoting D’Ewes most accurately. The way Hexter put the phrase in speech marks and changed the tense of the verb made it look like a direct quote of Marten’s actual words when it wasn’t. Snow followed Hexter but changed ‘only winter’ (which was correct) to ‘cold winter’ for no apparent reason. Waters changed it again to ‘early winter’ (or were these typesetting errors that were missed at the proof stage?). We can correct these errors by comparing with what D’Ewes wrote, but we still don’t have direct access to the words Marten actually used. Other sources don’t help with this.

The incident is also mentioned in the diary of Lawrence Whitaker, MP for Okehampton in Devon (British Library, Add. 31116, f. 14v). After recording reports of atrocities committed by the Cornish army, he wrote:

It was Ordered [tha]t these Relac[i]ons should be sent to [th]e Lo[rd] Gen[er]all, & to desire him to Consider whether it were not high time for [th]e Army to move, w[hi]ch now was, & for a fortnight had beene lying still at Windsor

The Commons Journal never records speeches so there’s no trace there. According to my notes, Walter Yonge’s diary (BL, Add. 18777, f. 81v.) doesn’t add much to the Commons Journal, although his writing is extremely difficult to read (I’m usually good at palaeography, but everyone has their limits).

Every historian I’ve looked at prefers D’Ewes’s account, which is understandable because he gives more detail than Whitaker. But they all omit one part: according to D’Ewes, Essex was defended by his ally Sir Gilbert Gerard. Leaving this out gives the impression that Essex was more unpopular than he actually was. He had friends as well as enemies. Hexter and Snow were generally sympathetic to Essex, and the quote from Hexter above asserts that the aspersions were ‘groundless’, but they both left out some evidence that would have supported their views. As Gentles points out, this was the first time that Essex’s competence had been questioned by someone on the parliamentary side. At this time it was still quite unusual.

Overall this isn’t a very important point but it shows that if something is in quote marks in a peer reviewed publication that doesn’t guarantee that it’s an accurate quote, and if it is an accurate rendition of the quoted text, there might be something interesting next to it in the source that it came from. Footnotes (or other methods of citing sources) don’t automatically give a claim authority, but they make it possible to check. That’s why they’re important.