Parliament’s Generals – Supreme Command & Politics during the British Wars 1642-51, Malcolm Wanklyn

Parliament’s Generals – Supreme Command & Politics during the British Wars 1642-51, Malcolm Wanklyn

The aim of this book is to look at the impact that politics had on the careers of the first three Lord Generals of Parliament’s army during the Civil Wars. This includes areas such as the reasons for their appointments, looking at other possible candidates for the post, why they kept the post after suffering any setbacks (especially for Essex), and why they eventually left the post, as well as more small scale examples of how Parliament interfered with military affairs. We also look at the political activities of the three Generals, two of whom were major national figures (Essex and Cromwell) by the time they held the post. Fairfax is a slightly different case, as he had made his name with the Northern Army, and wasn’t quite so involved in politics (although clearly did play a role).

The general assumption here is that you are familiar with the events of the civil wars, and with the outline of the careers of Essex, Fairfax and Cromwell. Instead of going over their individual campaigns in great detail, here the focus is on the impact politics had on their time as Lord General of Parliament’s army. The key argument here is for most of the time Essex and Fairfax were commanders in chief of their own army, and not all of Parliament’s forces. Both men had to consult Parliament or whichever committee was in charge of the war effort at any particular time, while other generals commanded their own separate armies. Essex seems to have suffered most from this, perhaps because of doubts about his energy levels, but also because he was Lord General at a time when there were other sizable armies operating in the south of England. Fairfax and Cromwell had the advantage of these having been merged into the New Model Army, although the northern and other armies remained separate.

The author isn’t a great fan of Cromwell, and a significant part of the book gives examples of when the view that he was a figure of ‘towering integrity’ simply isn’t true. In some cases one could argue that Cromwell at least would have thought that his actions were entirely in keeping with god’s will, but there are plenty where it is clear that his own self interest played a bigger part and some where his honesty can be challenged.

This is a different approach to these three careers than any I have read before. The focus on politics helps demonstrate the limits to each of their authorities (even Cromwell for most of his active military career), as well as how the Lord General could use his position to influence the political scene. We thus see Fairfax asking Parliament for instructions on what to do next after winning major battles, on the grounds that this was a strategic decision, and not for him to make, Essex struggling to cope as some of his powers are stripped away, and even Cromwell having to justify his actions to Parliament and its committees.

Part I: The First Lord General
1 – Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex
2 – The Lord General under Attack
3 – Essex’s Rivals
4 – London’s Favourite
5 – Essex’s Last Campaign
6 – The Earl of Essex and the Newbury Campaign
7 – The Birth of the New Model Army

Part II: The Second Lord General
8 – The Politician as Army Officer: Oliver Cromwell 1642-44
9 – The new Commander-in-Chief
10 – Sir Thomas Fairfax on Campaign 1645-46
11 – Fairfax the Political General February 1645-May 1646
12 – Fairfax in Politics and at War, 1646-50

Part III: The Third Lord General
13 – Oliver Cromwell, the Army and Parliament 1646-49
14 – Army Commander and Lord General, 1649-51
15 – The Lord General and his Understudies: Ireton and Lambert
16 – Cromwell’s Other Understudies
17 – An Afterthought

Author: Malcolm Wanklyn
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2019

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