‘The most cunning of Machiavellians’?

Henry Ireton  1611 to 1651

Ireton was born in Nottinghamshire, the son of Puritan gentry. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and then the Middle Temple. In 1642,serving under Lord Essex, he led a troop of Horse before Edgehill but doesn’t seem to have met Cromwell until the following year.  From then on, Ireton’s career was closely linked with that of Oliver. They make an interestingly contrasting pair. Cromwell the emotional extrovert, passionate and ebullient; and Ireton … the dark, ice-cold, ruthless intellectual.

Ireton fought at Marston Moor, Naseby and Bristol. And after the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646,he married Cromwell’s daughter, Bridget.  Although he was a brave soldier, he wasn’t a particularly distinguished military commander. He did, however, have a very sharp intellect and managed to combine constitutional law with political reality – a rare gift among his fellow officers in the New Model.

He was effective if somewhat long-winded orator. Judging from the Putney Debates of 1647, he seems to have had a habit of saying that he desired ‘but one word’ and then remaining on his feet for half an hour or more at a time. The Debates were complex; an attempt to deal with the Army’s negotiations with the King, the Presbyterians in the Commons, the Agitators in the rank and file and, in time, the newly emerging Levellers. It was John Lilburne who described Ireton as ‘the cunningest of Machiavellians’ – a description open to argument. Certainly, during the talks at Putney, Ireton’s aim was to create a settlement which would guarantee peace, religious toleration and reasonable terms of disbandment for the common soldier.
Ireton was the principal architect of the Heads of the Proposals – the terms offered to Charles l in 1647. Terms which, though he didn’t immediately say so, the King had no intention of accepting.

During the Second Civil War in 1648 Ireton was responsible for putting Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle before a firing squad after the fall of Colchester. Then, later that same year, Ireton set in motion the moves which culminated in Pride’s Purge.

At the King’s trial, Ireton’s name was 4th on the list of Commissioners, only preceded by those of Bradshaw, Cromwell and Fairfax.

After the execution of Charles l, Ireton was appointed as Cromwell’s second-in-command in Ireland and, in 1650, he became Lord Deputy there. He took both Waterford and Limerick and gained a reputation for the ruthlessness with which he crushed the Irish. After the summary executions of Lucas and Lisle, this is hardly a surprise.

Weakened by incessant work and recurrent bouts of fever, he died in Ireland in November 1651 and was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
After the Restoration, his remains were dug up and, along with those of Cromwell and Bradshaw, taken to Tyburn and hung there for a day. His head was cut off and exhibited in Westminster Hall where it remained for the next twenty-four years.

One final, interesting thought is this; if Ireton had survived Cromwell, might he have prevented the Restoration? Might he, indeed, have ended his days as Lord Protector? It’s not impossible.

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‘WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR’

Sir William Waller
1598 – 1668

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Everyone’s heard of Oliver Cromwell and yet, by March 1645, when Cromwell was still a subordinate officer, Sir William Waller had been leading a Parliamentary army for two years. So who was this man most people have never heard of?

He was born at Knole House in Kent but, when he was five years old, his father became Lieutenant of Dover Castle and the Cinque Ports so William spent his childhood there. He was educated at Magladen Hall, Oxford before travelling to Italy – where, with a number of other young Englishmen, he enlisted in the Venetian army and had his first taste of military action.

By November 1620, he was defending the Protestant cause of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and her husband, Frederick, the Elector Palatine. After the Palatinate forces were crushed at the Battle of the White Hill and Prague was over-run by the Austrian army, Frederick and Elizabeth – along with their one-year-old son, Rupert – were forced to flee through the snow, escorted by a few English officers. One of these was William Waller and another was Ralph Hopton – who I mention now for reasons which will become apparent later.

Returning to England, Waller was knighted by James l for services to both the Protestant religion and also, one would assume, to James’s daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. He then married Jane Reynell [which whom he was deeply in love] and abandoned military life in favour of managing his father-in-law’s Devonshire estates. For the next thirteen years, he lived peacefully at Forde House near Newton Abbot.

When the Long Parliament convened in 1640, Waller sat as the member for Andover and was soon prominent amongst those in opposition to Charles l. Naturally, when the Civil War broke out, his previous military experience earned him command of all the Parliamentarian forces on the south coast; and during the first year of the war, he was the most successful of the Roundhead generals – taking Portsmouth, Farnham, Winchester, Arundel and Chichester. Indeed, he was so successful that the news-sheets nicknamed him ‘William the Conqueror’.

I’m not going to detail Waller’s entire Civil War career. Suffice it to say that his luck didn’t last. He was possibly not the most effective disciplinarian and was frequently plagued by mutinies among his troops. In 1643, he was soundly defeated by Sir Ralph Hopton at Roundway Down [the battle the Cavaliers liked to call Runaway Hill] and, in ’44, was mauled by the King at Cropredy Bridge. [Both feature in The Black Madonna]. His military career ended in 1645 with the Self-Denying Ordinance – the decree which said members of Parliament had to resign either their seat in the House or their military commission.  Interestingly, Cromwell managed to keep both.

In the years that followed, Waller was a notable Presbyterian leader of the House of Commons and a bitter enemy of the Army commanders.  He was driven  into brief  exile in 1647, was one of the Members purged from the Commons in 1648 by Colonel Pride [see Garland of Straw] and subsequently suffered at least two spells of imprisonment. Finally, in the later 1650s, he was driven to contact the exiled Royalists – though this earned him no reward at the Restoration.

On a personal level, Waller had all the sterling qualities of a medieval knight. He was brave, honourable and deeply religious. He was one of many moderate, humane men on both sides of a terrible civil conflict. And the main reason I’ve chosen to add him to my Who’s Who list, and possibly also one of the best reasons to remember him is contained in a letter he wrote to Sir Ralph Hopton – his friend for more than twenty years but now also his enemy – on the eve of the battle of Lansdown in 1643.

The great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go upon this service and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy.’

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He gained, then lost it all

MAJOR-GENERAL JOHN LAMBERT
1619 TO 1684

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Lambert was born the same year as Rupert of the Rhine and, like Rupert, would have been just twenty-three years old when the Civil War began. I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for him – which anyone who has read Garland of Straw, where he features as Gabriel’s superior officer, will already know. And he’s back in The King’s Falcon – this time as Eden’s commander between Scotland and Worcester.

Some of the Roundheads – such as Cromwell, for example – who were leading players in the conflict were born around the turn of the seventeenth century and didn’t achieve prominence until they were well into their forties. Others, like Ireton and Lilburne, died before reaching that age. By the time John Lambert was forty, he had achieved everything and lost it all … and he spent his remaining years in prison.
How did that come about?

Lambert was born in West Yorkshire.  He began his military career as a Captain in Fairfax’s cavalry and was a Major-General by the young age of twenty-eight – a swift rise which reflects his strategic brilliance.  He fought at Marston Moor in 1644, Preston in 1648, Dunbar in 1650 and played a vital role in the victory at Worcester in 1651. He was popular with his own men and the Cavaliers disliked him less than most of the other Roundhead leaders – probably because he was less Puritanical. He kept his religious views to himself, was a cynical realist and combined ambition with a gift for intrigue.  He lived in style with his wife, Frances, at Wimbledon House where his hobby was cultivating tulips – on which he spent a great deal of money.

Having covered it in detail in Garland, I’ll pass over Lambert’s involvement in the complex politics of 1647-49 and simply say that he had no sympathy at all with the radicals and wasn’t one of the regicides. But in 1653, he engineered the dissolution of the Barebones’ Assembly and produced the first draft of a document which led to the establishment of the Protectorate. This is interesting because I get the impression that he didn’t particularly like Cromwell – and Cromwell clearly didn’t understand Lambert at all, describing him as ‘bottomless’. Certainly Lambert opposed the move to make Cromwell king or the Protectorate hereditary – a stand which led to his dismissal.

In May 1659, after the death of Cromwell and the overthrow of his son, Richard, Lambert regained his previous military commands when the Rump was recalled.

But this is where everything seems to have gone awry.

Following [yet another] quarrel between Parliament and the Army, Lambert repeated history by expelling the Rump. This drew General Monck down from Scotland to restore civil authority and – inexplicably, to me at least – Lambert’s troops deserted him rather than fight. The result was that he was captured and put in the Tower. He escaped, tried to rally the Army in a last ditch attempt to prevent the Restoration – and was recaptured. In 1662, he was tried, condemned to death, reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent his remaining twenty-two years as a captive – first on Guernsey and then on Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound.

Perhaps Lambert’s tragedy was that he reached his peak too soon and couldn’t accept that his meteoric rise might come to an abrupt end. It’s true to say that, if he had been less ambitious, he might not have begun the troubles of 1659 which resulted in the Restoration; but equally, if his principles had been of the more flexible kind, he might have gained further honours by betraying his friends and throwing in his lot with Charles the Second.

At the end, Lambert plainly did what he’d always done – he stuck to his guns. And for two decades, the intelligence and courage of a natural leader were utterly wasted.

In the words of one of the great Cavalier heroes, horribly murdered nine years before the return of the King …

He either fears his fate too much or his deserts are small,
Who puts it not unto the touch, to win or lose it all.

James Graham, Marquis of Montrose

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The Great Cuckold – Soundhead

Robert Devereux,  3rd Earl of Essex   1591-1646

You have to feel a bit sorry for Lord Essex.  His father was Elizabeth 1’s well-known favourite and it must have been hard to  live up to all that glamour and panache – particularly as Robert Junior doesn’t seem to have inherited any of it.   Solid, solemn and cautious are the words most often used to describe the third Earl.  His unfortunate nickname is even more well known – and I’ll be coming to that later.

Like most other militarily experienced soldiers of the English Civil War, Essex had fought in what we now know as the Thirty Years’ War [1618-48] though his career was not especially distinguished.  He commanded a company of volunteers in the Palatinate in 1620,  was Vice-Admiral of the ill-fated Cadiz expedition in 1625 and was second-in-command during the so-called Bishops’ War of 1639.  So far, so good.  But when Civil War became imminent, Essex chose to support the Parliament.  Clarendon tells us he did this through ‘a weak judgement and a little vanity and much of pride’.  I tend to think his lordship was out of charity with the Crown for more personal reasons.

At the start of the war, he was appointed General-in-Chief of the Parliamentary army and, though he did his best, he wasn’t a particularly successful commander.  He lacked initiative and exerted no authority over his fellow generals – most notably, Oliver Cromwell who was instrumental in getting rid of him.  He also set off on campaign with his coffin strapped to the back of his coach – a sight which I doubt did much to improve the morale of his troopers!

He failed to win a decisive victory at Edgehill but did manage to hold the defences of London at Turnham Green; he was victorious at the first battle of Newbury in 1643, took Reading and relieved the siege of Gloucester.  But 1644 brought disaster.  He allowed himself to be trapped at Lostwithiel in Cornwall and, though he himself escaped by sea, he left six thousand men behind with no alterative but surrender.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m choosing to talk about this wholly uncharismatic figure.  It’s partly because  his name crops up over and over again in my writing – but I don’t believe I’ve ever actually introduced him in person.But mostly, I felt it was time to explain why the poor man was known throughout the country as The Great Cuckold. When he was fourteen years old, young Robert was married to pretty, spoiled, self-willed Frances Howard – and, soon after, was sent off on the usual grand European tour.

Not unnaturally, he left before consummating his marriage and, during his absence, Frances began a passionate affair with Robert Carr – one of the ‘special’ favourites of James 1. When Essex returned from his travels, Frances petitioned for an annulment of her marriage on the grounds of her husband’s impotence.  The resulting trial was hugely public.  Essex maintained that he was perfectly capable with other women and only impotent with his wife because she reviled him and called him names.  Needless to say, this was when people first started sniggering.  Frances didn’t escape scot-free either, having been foolish enough – despite her well-known liaison with Robert Carr – to claim that she was still a virgin.  By the time the annulment was granted in September 1613, Essex was a national joke. Although it’s another story altogether, it’s worth mentioning here that Frances subsequently married Robert Carr [now created Earl of Somerset] and the two of them were brought to trial for their part in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury.  Essex was one of the judges in the case and pushed for the death penalty.  He eventually got it – but the sentence was never carried out.  It’s possible that this was one of the reasons Lord Essex chose Parliament over the Crown.He married again when he was forty to Elizabeth Paulet – and  this marriage was also a failure.  The Countess bore a son who died of plague within a month  and who Essex openly doubted was his own issue. At any rate, he immediately petitioned for a judicial separation on the grounds of his wife’s adultery.  [ A point of interest here is that, unlike Scotland, divorce was not an option in England at that time.] Elizabeth denied it, of course, claiming the was the innocent victim of a conspiracy by his lordship’s friends who feared her great influence over him.  The court didn’t agree and Essex got his separation.

Unfortunately, what he also got was the nickname by which we now know him.

The Great Cuckold.

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