December 06, 2009

Review: The Readiness of the People: The Formation and Emergence of the Army of the Fairfaxes

The process of beggining a civil war is neither uncomplicated nor uninteresting. At some point someone has to decide to take up arms and shoot their neighbour, rather than arguing with him ferociously. That is one of the many reasons why it is so hard to fix a beggining to civil wars: the civil war in England began in different parts of the country at different times. Different counties saw different stories take place within them and as John Morrill argued in his Revolt in the Provinces, those stories were connected as much to initial advantage within the civil war as to any pre-existing commitment to one side or the other. The story of Yorkshire in the civil war though is amongst the most interesting: partly because it was in Yorkshire that Sir Thomas Fairfax, the 'rider on the white horse' emerged as one of the leading Parliamentarian figures, the start of a career which would eventually take him to become Lord General of the Parliamentary Armed Forces and one of the architects of the new settlement of 1649 not to mention the restoration of 1660. Before that momentous rise though, Sir Thomas played a secondary role to his father Lord Fernando Fairfax within his home county of Yorkshire.

The story of the Fairfaxes in Yorkshire illustrates two key points about the early civil war. The first is the way in which gentry allegiances overlapped with gentry quarrels and greivances. The standard of Parliament had been first raised in Yorkshire by Sir John Hotham in the East Riding in Hull, at that point the Fairfaxes were still attempting to make peace with the King. Hotham was a client of the Earl of Essex and he and his son dominated military affairs in the East Riding and were unwilling to yield either supremacy or help to the Fairfaxes. The Fairfaxes began their army in the West Riding of the county around the great cloth towns- Bradford in particular- and from there sought to menace the Duke of Newcastle's army. Hotham and Fairfax's rivalry continued right throughout the war and Hotham eventually deserted to the royalist side of the war partly because of his hatred for the Fairfaxes.

Gentry rivalry though does not explain where the Fairfaxes army in Yorkshire came from: it explains where it did not come from-any aid from Hotham. They created their army out of their own retainers but also took advice. Thomas Stockdale of Bilton Park wrote to Lord Fairffax that

The insurrections of the apprentices (as all ungoverned multitudes) are of very dangerous consequences; but God, who works miracles, can, out of such violent actions, bring comfortable effects, which I beseech him to grant to this much distracted empire; and truly the like and much more violent tumults in Irleand, for unjust and irreligious pretences, seem to give warrant and precedent to an opposite irregularity of the same nature, which is for just and religious ends in this Kingdom.

Fernando and particularly his son, Sir Thomas, took this advice eventually. Sir Thomas Fairfax took his small forces and releived Bradford where a popular uprising had seized the town for Parliament and asked his father 'to give to me the power to join with the readiness of the people' and doubted not 'but, by God's assistance to give your Lordship a good account of what we do'. This was unlike most other Parliamentarian military commanders: in Gloucestershire for example the gentry ignored the popular rising in Cirencester and other Yorkshiremen particularly the Hothams were horrified by what the Fairfaxes were doing.

What seems to have propelled the Yorkshire men who rose with the Fairfaxes and eventually in part resisted without them- after Sir Thomas and his father fled to Hull after the Battle of Adwalton Moor- was greivances about royalist behaviour, a sense of Godly vocation and perhaps as importantly reported Irish atrocities. Many of the places were the risings happened were places where Protestantism and in particular puritanism were deeply embedded: Bradford for instance had been a centre of dissent since the Lollards. Ireland was a key factor as well though. In 1642 Joseph Lister recorded in his diary that a man rushed into a Yorkshire church shouting that the Irish had arrived in Rochdale, apparantly the response of the congregation was hysterical with women screaming, men seizing weapons and even children clamouring. This was not unusual and most of the men who joined the Fairfax army did so because they believed that a Catholic invasion was under way: the fact that Newcastle admitted his Royalist army had 'Romish' officers hardly helped. Fear drove these men and women into war.

Hopper's pamphlet about this- that I am reviewing is very interesting and well worth reading. At only twenty pages it is short but it makes the important points I've discussed above. The only thing that really is missing from it is a further discussion of other class reactions in 1641-3 in Yorkshire to the risings. We know from Derek Hirst's work on the Baynes affinity in Leeds in the 1650s that there were massive conflicts between the different elements of the cloth industry that drove the politics of the West Riding: it would be interesting to know how those different elements related to the risings of 1641-3. However in general this is a very interesting short piece of work.


Political Umpire said...

Interesting stuff. I have started having regular lunches with a civil war expert, and will try and get his take on this. (Yes, btw, I am dabbling with the blogosphere after a year off ...). Trust you are well, good to see the blog on form.

Gracchi said...

Umpire- good to see you sir! Fantastic to hear you might be back- at the old site? Yes do have a chat- this is a phenomenon that is really linked to Yorkshire alone pretty much though there might be outside implications. Hopper should know his stuff so opinions would be interesting.

See you around- I'll come over and have a look around at your site myself!