Oliver’s army

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex

Parliament reorganized its forces in 1645 for several reasons, but one was surely the disappointing performance of the Earl of Essex, who may have been a symbolic political “catch”  (since he was about as noble as you could get), but as high commander couldn’t seem to throw his heart into beating Charles and his forces into submission. Remember how Essex  refused to engage Charles when the king marched on London? And we didn’t read about it, but Charles and his men routed Essex in Cornwall: When Essex saw how badly things were going, he escaped by boat, deserting his troops, who were left to fend for themselves.

The Self-Denying Ordinance (April 3, 1645)–which removed MPs like Essex from serving in the military (though MPs Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton were somehow exempt from the Ordinance…)–helped make way for the New Model Army.

Sir Thomas Fairfax

Sir  Thomas Fairfax became its lord general and Cromwell its lieutenant general.  Cromwell was a gifted strategist and leader of men, but Fairfax was a brilliant commander, a fact that Cromwell’s later political fame has eclipsed. The quasi-famous poem “Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax” (1651) by  Andrew Marvell (the “To His Coy Mistress” guy) is addressed to him.

And that Elvis Costello song called “Oliver’s Army”? The story is that he wrote it after seeing armed British soldiers on the streets of Belfast. What does that have to do with Cromwell?

Oliver Cromwell

In 1651 Catholics and Royalists in Ireland began to rise up, which reminded everyone in England of the alleged atrocities the Irish visited on the English in 1641. Cromwell’s solution was what’s now called the “Conquest of Ireland.” Others have called it genocide.

So go watch the Costello video of “Oliver’s Army” already.


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