The Declaration of the Armie: A collection of five pamphlets relating to the New Model Army in Saffron Walden, April to May 1647. Newly imprinted at Saffron Walden, 2007.
The pamphlets reproduced in this book were first published in one of the most exciting and turbulent periods of English history - the “brother-killing” days of the English Civil War. They were all written and printed in 1647 when the soldiers of the New Model Army were billeted in and around Saffron Walden, pending disbandment.
The fighting of the first civil war had ended by the time General Fairfax made the town his headquarters in March 1647. The increasingly restless soldiers of the New Model Army remained in the town until the end of May, growing more radical with each week as Parliament refused to pay them their substantial pay arrears and made plans to send more than half the Army to Ireland.
The soldiers were reluctant to take part in the Irish campaign, preferring to return home to their families. They were also keen to ensure Parliament would grant them indemnity for any crimes they may have committed during the Civil War.
The soldiers began circulating a number of petitions from mid-March onwards, shortly before the Presbyterian dominated Parliament sent three commissioners (Sir William Waller, Sir John Clotworthy and Richard Salwey) to Walden to discuss the best way to organize the dispatch of 12,600 soldiers of the New Model Army to Ireland. Fairfax convened a Council of War, attended by some 43 officers to meet the Commissioners on March 21, when the soldiers grievances, including Ireland, were discussed.
Dis-satisfied by the Commissioners’ response to the soldiers’ grievances the officers decided to draft their own petition to Parliament. Outraged, the Commissioners complained to Fairfax, who denied all knowledge of the petition although rumours had reached the Commissioners that it had been drawn up in his quarters. The next day the Commissioners managed to persuade a substantial number of the officers to sign a letter encouraging enlistment for service in Ireland. It is the events of these two days that are recorded in the first of the publications included here, The Petition of the Officers.
Before the Commissioners returned to London, they were confronted with another pamphlet entitled: A Warning for All the Counties of England. This tract, printed in London and carried down on the coach to Walden, was found by the Commissioners in their inn and warned soldiers not to enlist for Ireland as the Presbyterians would take advantage of the army’s absence to “impose religious uniformity”. This was followed the next day by a broadsheet that was circulated openly among the soldiers.
The soldiers’ grievances are the subject of the Apologie of the Common Souldiers:
“Can we be satisfied with a Complement, when our fellow Souldiers suffer at every Assize for acts meerly relating to the Warre?” On Ireland the pamphlet’s authors ask: “Can this Irish Expedition be any thing else but a Designe to ruine and break this army in pieces?” In the companion piece A Second Apologie of all the private Souldiers in his Excellencies Sir Thomas Fairfax his Army...” the soldiers’ complaints become a focused political attack “wee see that Oppression is as great as ever if not greater”. Those that supported and faught for Parliament are “slighted, abused, beaten and dragge to Jayles, yea, to the utter ruine of their estates, and losse of their lives.” The pamphlet ends with a list of grievances including the politcial demand “That the Liberty of the Subject may no longer be enslaved, but that Justise and Judgement may be dealt to the meanest Subject of this Land, according to old Law.”
Letters from Saffron Walden, contains the text of The Humble Petition of the Inhabitants of Essex which protests against the burden placed by the billeting of soldiers and the provision of free quarter on the inhabitants of Essex. The pamphlet explains that the petition was originally drawn up in London and sent to Joseph Hall, the High constable of Little Bardfield, “and the like was sent to the Minister of Saffron Walden to be published in every parish church in the county of Essex.”
The introduction to Letters explains that the “Souldiers will not hinder others Petitioning against them even in their own presence”, but goes on to contrast this with the reception of the soldiers’ own petition:
“...have they fought to maintain the Petition of Right and be denied a Right of petitioning themselves.
The discussion that forms the bulk of this pamphlet contrasts Parliament’s reaction to the soldiers’ petitions with the Essex Petition:
“who would have thought that so modest and moderate an addresse as the late petition drawn up to be subscribed by the Army, to be presented tot he Generall, would have raised so much dust? Or, have the Souldiers onely, who have been instruments to recover the lost liberties of the Nation, sought themselves into slavery? Sure there is a right of petitioning for us, as well as there was a Petition of Right once for the Parliament: if we had bin so rash as at first adventure to have knockt with a Petition at the Parliaments doores, it might have been censured...For Souldiers to represent their grievances to their Generall, is a liberty which the Law of nature and Nations will not deny”.
The Declaration of the Armie presents a reasoned defence of the soldiers’ petitions, of the officers own role in supporting the soldiers’ demands, and the circulation of their own petition as a way of heading off further dissent. They blamed “some that were then at Walden (whom whoever they be, we can judge by the carriage and the sequele of the bussinese, to be no better than malicious Incendaries endeavouring to get mis-understanding betwixt the Parliament and their Army) having surreptitiously got a copie of the Petition intended, did unreasonably prepossesse the Parliament therewith ...as to delude the Parliament into suspitions of some dangerous design in it.” In measured terms the Declaration criticises Parliament’s decision to suppress the Petition, and to summon’s some of the officers to appear before the bar in the House for circulating it. They also criticised the so-called "Declaration of Dislike", in which Parliament condemned the soldiers as “enemies of the state”.
Divers Papers from the Army sets out a short speech made by Marshall General Skippon on May 15 during the debates that took place in St Mary’s Church, when the officers and representatives of the ordinary soldiers presented their grievances to a new group of Commissioners that included Oliver Cromwell sent by Parliament to enquire into discontent in the army. Skippon acted as Chairman during the debates and made honest efforts to mediate between the Army and Parliament .
The debates held by the Commissioners were recorded in considerable detail which captures the cut and thrust of argument. The soldiers of the New Model Army had been radicalised by the war and for the first time in English history elected representatives from among their own ranks to represent their views.
The soldier’s response to the Commissioners is included in The Answer of the Army which forms the second part of Divers Papers and is addressed to Skippon, Cromwell, Commissionary General Ireton and Colonel Fleetwood and sets out eleven grievances. They refuted the Parliamentary charge that they were “enemies of the state”:
“which said heavie charge remaining upon record as a Memorandum of Infamy upon us to posterity; we cannot choose but be deeply sensible thereof, and with amazement wonder how so humble and Innocent address, intended to the Generall, could beget so strange an interpretation”. This was the first of ten grievances listed against Parliament, including the treatment of army officers as “delinquents”, holding them without trial, or even charging them with any offence and in the case of Ensign Nichols, pressing him into military service in Ireland, and imprisoning him without trial “contrary to the Law of theis Kingdome”. Divers Papers is supplemented by Certain Heads of Aggrievances considered by the Souldiers of Coll. Riches Regiment which repeated the charges against Parliament.
While the extended quarrel between Parliament and the Officers of the New Model Army continued the soldiers were secretly organising, and setting up their own parallel structure within the Army, electing representatives from every troop and every regiment to act on behalf of the the ordinary soldiers. The representatives were known as “Adjudicators” or “Agitators”. The first glimpse of this clandestine organisation was seen in the Apologie of the Common Soldiers, openly and defiantly signed by the Agitators of six regiments - all of them ordinary troopers.
Shortly after the debates the Agitators hatched a plot to seize control of a munitions store in Oxford, and despatched 1,000 men to complete the task. Within days these men, under the command of Cornet Joyce went on to seize the King, who was already detained by a parliamentary guard at Holdenby, preventing him from entering into an alliance with the Presbyterians in Parliament.
Between the plan and the seizure of the King, the New Model Army left Saffron Walden and set up a new HQ at Bury St Edmunds. The Army HQ was moved frequently over the next few weeks, to Royston, Newmarket and St Ives until August when the New Model Army marched on London to quell a Royalist rebellion.
In London the soldiers organised a series of famous debates in Putney Church when heady ideas of democracy and the rights of “freeborn Englishmen” were discussed. Ideas that first stirred among the ordinary soldiers billeted in and around Saffron Walden - the "cradle" of English democracy.
[The Introduction to the Declaration of the Armie, published by Bruce Tice. The edition is limited to 100 copies. Copies are available from Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre for £7.50 plus postage]