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Response to Review no. 744

I am grateful to Elliot Vernon for his generous and comprehensive review of War in England. In response I will only address a few issues; these primarily relate to his caveats about the scanty treatment of the Irish, the clergy, and providence, and to his discussion of honour and military law. On all of these topics his comments raise, directly or indirectly, issues that would repay more attention by historians.

I am in complete agreement that the Irish, the clergy and providence merited more extensive treatment. My excuse is in part that such treatment would have made an already long book intolerably longer. However with regard to the Irish, I specifically confined my focus to England on the ground that the wars in Scotland and Ireland were, as far as English participation was concerned, of a different kind – respectively ‘colonial’ (in a very broad sense) or international (in a legal sense), and therefore different from a civil war between countrymen. They thus raised different issues not only of social relations but also of how the laws of war, or of treason, were to be applied. Accounts of the wars in Ireland are currently being radically revised and illuminated, notably by Irish historians whose conclusions will have to be assimilated to discussions of English conceptions of Irish ‘otherness’ and catholicism. It is to be hoped that they will also throw light on the inconsistencies of English conduct towards the Irish, not only in England and Ireland but also on the continent: family connection, friendship, moral principle or its absence, revenge, blind prejudice and racism, all contributed to a kaleidoscopic picture.

With regard to the role of the clergy Vernon raises a tantalizing point. Obviously, for parliamentarians they fuelled anti-popery and blackguarded devilish cavaliers, and in doing so influenced popular and political attitudes. But how much influence did chaplains have on the actual conduct of the war? I am not sure that the question is ultimately answerable beyond the conventional acceptance that many of the godly heard and were moved by the sermons and prayers of their regimental chaplains, and that even for the less godly these could provide rousing boosts to morale in the face of the enemy – although there is also a question as to whether they were more effective than secular incentives to action such as appeals to professional pride, esprit de corps, or the prospect of plunder.

Vernon’s question does, however, point to a topic that remains, as far as I know, largely unexplored, namely the role of royalist regimental chaplains and the extent to which it was similar to or different from that of their parliamentarian counterparts. We know a lot about the latter because they got into print, had influential supporters, and told us insistently that they were important. For royalist clergy, we know the ‘names’, such as Henry Ferne and William Chillingworth, and we can read sermons preached before eminent audiences (though here attention has largely focused on their political, doctrinal or ecclesiological content), but we know far less about run-of-the-mill practice, and we have no helpful guide to match Anne Laurence’s Parliamentary Army Chaplains 1642-1651.(1) Yet royalist articles of war, as revised in 1643, regulated the duties of chaplains, and also of soldiers to attend their services and sermons, in far more detail than did parliamentarian, and spelled out penalties for failure to observe the rules. It would be extremely interesting to know more about the esteem in which these chaplains were held by officers and men, and about what they said. Did providentialism – common to both parties – take on a different form or weight? Did the duty of obedience to superiors – required in both armies – take a different colour when the ultimate authority, to whom both military and civilian obedience was due, lay in the single person of the king?

Vernon suggests that the ‘uncertainties’ of civil war ‘gave rise to … providentialist sensibilities’, but although the range of anxieties expanded in the 1640s providential belief had a long and powerful life before the war. Again, he is right that differences between royalist and parliamentarian beliefs merit more consideration. Although both sides saw God’s hand in victory and defeat, in life and death, it is the parliamentarian conviction that God’s hand required supporting action and that it was the individual’s duty to act as God’s agent that is striking. Defeat, experienced in the long run by both sides, naturally encouraged a more passive view of individual obligation and a sense that providence required acceptance of misfortune rather than action to change it.

I have some reservations about Vernon’s representation of honour and military law. Although he recognizes the cool professional honour of a royalist like Gage, he concentrates more on honour’s flamboyant and quarrelsome aspects, which were indeed a striking phenomenon among royalists. They should nevertheless be seen as an excrescence on a bipartisan, common core of honour which was both professionally military (and as such had pragmatic military utility) and, more widely, on a conception of personal integrity that was shared by soldiers and civilians. I find it hard to see the differences between royalist and parliamentarian conceptions of honour as deriving from ‘the neo-chivalric culture of many [royalist] parvenu lords and knights’ (and indeed, who were these people?) on the one hand, and the ‘sermon driven exercises’ of prewar artillery gardens (whose attendees were encouraged more by fashionable public spirit than religion) on the other.

Vernon seems to suggest that Arundel’s articles of war marked a new ‘pragmatic realization that legal structures were necessary in order to ensure military discipline’, but in fact all the articles that I know of from the time of Richard II had, not surprisingly, the purpose of ‘ensur[ing] military discipline’, and there was little substantive change in many of their basic provisions (for example, no plunder until the order was given); furthermore, although they do not spell out rules for courts martial they do address the powers of provost marshals. The great innovation of Arundel’s articles was their introduction of an efficient format combined with modernized content that had been evolving for decades.

As for differences between royalist and parliamentary execution of military justice, they are probably less than Vernon suggests. Royalist attention to quarrels and duels does indeed indicate an important social and ideological divide which has been helpfully explored by, among others, Ronald Hutton and Ian Roy. When it comes to the actual administration of justice through courts martial, we simply do not know. The fact that it was royalist articles that set out the detailed rules of powers and procedure for military courts (closely modeled on the provisions for Gustavus Adolphus’ army, as published in England in 1632), shows their attention to the issue. That the actual procedures of parliamentary courts martial, although less minutely legislated, clearly followed the same rules suggests common ground. In trying to address the actual practice of royalist military law, however, we remain at the mercy of the evidence, or rather of its absence. If we have only two runs of court records to illustrate parliamentary practice, we have (as yet) none for the royalists. On both sides we also have some references to individual cases, and those for the royalists suggest that their courts martial could sometimes function as a continuation of the Earl Marshal’s court as a means of asserting personal honour in debatable circumstances (as in the cases of Prince Rupert and Viscount Ogle). And one case at least, that of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Windebank, executed at the king’s insistence for questionable surrender, suggests the possibility of royal intervention in the judicial process. Nevertheless evidence for the more routine practice of royalist military justice remains rare and random. We simply do not know enough to generalize about its nature. Here too there is room for more investigation. Finally, on one point Vernon is, I fear, too kind to parliamentary courts martial. The absence of punishment by the wooden horse from the later of the two sets of records does not reflect a humane advance: the practice survived well into the eighteenth century, and the reasons for its final abolition were as much practical as humane.


  1. Anne Laurence, Parliamentary Army Chaplains 1642-1651 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1990).Back to (1)