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The Making of BritainThe Making of Britain

From civil war at home to conflict on the Continent, explore the Army’s role in creating and defending the nation state of Great Britain we know today.

  • King vs People
  • Lord Protector
  • Pots and plates
  • Commander of the New Model Army
  • Crow’s feet
  • Regicide
  • Cavalier
  • Glorious Revolution
  • Nine Years War
  • Dragoon sword
  • Master general
  • Cannon ball, 1704
Warrant signed by King Charles I at Nottingham 22 August 1642, authorising Lord Willoughby of Eresby to raise the King’s Lifeguard

King vs People

Warrant signed by King Charles I at Nottingham 22 August 1642, authorising Lord Willoughby of Eresby to raise the King’s Lifeguard

NAM. 1993-10-112

This warrant marks the beginning of the First Civil War (1642-46). It was signed by King Charles I at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. The warrant authorises Lord Willoughby of Eresby to raise the regiment that became the King’s Lifeguard.

In 1641 the Militia Ordinance had given Parliament control of raising troops. The King bypassed Parliament’s authority by using an ancient system known as Commission of Array. By this means he granted a commission to an officer in a specific area to recruit the local people. By using this out of date system, Charles was forcing the crucial question: who controlled the Army, Crown or Parliament?

On the same day that he signed this warrant, the King raised his royal standard at Nottingham, effectively declaring war on Parliament. In the five years that followed, the Royal and Parliamentary armies were transformed from amateur soldiers into efficient fighting machines. From 1647 to 1660, the Parliament’s New Model Army was the most important force in the country, and it dominated English politics.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, c1650. Oil on canvas, artist unknown, after Robert Walker (c1599-1658), c1650.

Lord Protector

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, c1650. Oil on canvas, artist unknown, after Robert Walker (c1599-1658), c1650.

NAM. 1988-11-1

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) rose to prominence in the committees of the House of Commons and fought in the early campaigns of the Civil Wars of Britain (1639-1651) under the Parliamentarian Earl of Essex. In 1644 he commanded the cavalry of the Eastern Association at the Battle of Marston Moor. In 1645 he was in command of the cavalry of the newly-formed New Model Army at the Battle of Naseby.

By the time of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Cromwell had become the foremost general in the New Model Army, a force of men chosen for their prowess and dedication rather than by name or wealth. He gained enormous prestige with victories at the Battles of Preston (1648), Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651). This was not diminished by his harsh campaign in Ireland (1649-1650), which was marked by the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford. He continued the Elizabethan policy of settling Protestants in Ireland and came to symbolize this hated policy, which gave England political dominance.

In 1653 Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, a position he held until his death in 1658. He was buried at Westminster Abbey. However, upon the Restoration of the monarchy, his body was disinterred and, with other regicides, his head was placed upon a pole above Westminster Hall.

This portrait has suffered as a result of its sitter's controversial career, having been slashed across the face. Ironically, the artist Robert Walker borrowed the pose from the work of Van Dyck, King Charles I's painter.

Pikeman’s armour, c1640

Pots and plates

Pikeman’s armour, c1640

NAM. 1996-07-279

This armour consists of a pot helmet, back and breast plates, tassets to protect the lower trunk and thighs, and a gorget to guard the throat. Dated from around 1640, it would have been worn by a pikeman.

Although around two-thirds of a 17th-century infantry regiment would have been armed with a matchlock musket, the rest of the troops, many of whom continued to wear armour, would have used a sixteen-foot, steel-tipped pike.

A pikeman’s armour could weigh between 45 and 65 pounds. One of their key roles was protecting musketeers from enemy infantry and cavalry. When grouped closely together with pikes held out, the pikemen could hold off an attack by enemy horse.

‘His excellencie the Lord Fairfax; General of the forces raised by the Parliment’, c1650. Line engraving published c1650.

Commander of the New Model Army

‘His excellencie the Lord Fairfax; General of the forces raised by the Parliment’, c1650 Line engraving published c1650

NAM. 1998-10-228

Thomas Fairfax (1612-71) was arguably the most important general of the Civil War. Throughout 1643, often fighting against great odds, Fairfax's family pinned down larger Royalist forces in the north, preventing them from marching south to reinforce the king.

In a series of battles, culminating in the Parliamentarian victory at Winceby in October 1643, Fairfax established a reputation as a courageous cavalry commander, always willing to be in the thick of the action. His victories at Nantwich in January, and Selby in April 1644, cemented his reputation. Although defeated at Marston Moor (July 1644) his efforts in holding out against the odds the previous year had laid the groundwork for the Parliamentarian victory.

In December 1644, Fairfax was appointed commander of the New Model Army. In less than six months, he forged the remains of three older Parliamentarian armies into a new battle-winning force. Its first test came in June 1645 at Naseby, where years of battlefield experience and an instinctive sense of timing enabled Fairfax to smash the Royalist army in just two hours. The next month he destroyed the last effective Royalist field army at Langport and followed this with a mopping-up operation which culminated in the fall of Oxford, the Royalist capital, in June 1646.

Fairfax was out of his depth in politics and often found himself out-manoeuvred. He refused to attend the trial of Charles I in 1649 and tried to avert the king’s execution. He remained in England during Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, and refused to lead the invasion of Scotland in 1650, which caused him to resign his command. Always opposed to military rule, in 1660 Fairfax raised troops in Yorkshire to support General George Monck. By neutralising Parliamentarian forces in the north, he gave Monck the chance to march south and restore King Charles II.

Wrought iron caltrop, c17th century

Crow’s feet

Wrought iron caltrop, c17th century

NAM. 1967-06-80

For foot soldiers, facing a charge of heavily armed cavalry would have been a terrifying experience. Their defensive measures included sharpened stakes, pikes and ditches.

The grim-looking object displayed here, known as a ‘crow’s foot’ or caltrop, was also used. They were placed on the ground in order to disrupt cavalry charges. Horses were quickly disabled if the spikes penetrated their hoofs.

A piece of ground covered with crow’s feet acted like a modern minefield. However you throw a caltrop down, one sharpened spike always sticks up.

Colonel John Hutchinson and Mrs Lucy Hutchinson, c1643. Oil on canvas, attributed to John Souch of Chester (c1593-1645).

Regicide

Traditionally identified as Colonel John Hutchinson and Mrs Lucy Hutchinson, c1643. Oil on canvas, attributed to John Souch of Chester (c1593-1645).

NAM. 2006-06-8 & NAM. 2006-06-9

Colonel John Hutchinson (1615-64) was a regicide: one of the 59 Commissioners who signed the death warrant of King Charles I in 1649. During the Civil War he joined the Parliamentarian army with his cousin, Henry Ireton, and led the defence of the city of Nottingham.

On the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, many regicides were executed for treason. Others were hunted down and assassinated, exiled or locked up. The bodies of those who had already died, such as Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, were exhumed and then publicly hanged, beheaded and thrown into a pit.

Instead, with the help of his wife, John Hutchinson managed to escape with an incredibly light punishment: he lost his position as a Member of Parliament. However, in 1663 he was implicated in an armed rebellion and imprisoned. He died in 1664.

Lucy Hutchinson (1620-81) was a remarkable woman. She was well educated, which was unusual for women in the early 1600s. Devoted to her husband, she used her family connections to campaign for a lenient sentence for him.

Following his death, Lucy felt her husband’s name needed to be cleared. The biography she wrote to explain his behaviour, ‘Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson’, was one of the first to be written by a woman. It was not published until 1806, but its success and significance have meant that today she is better known to historians than her husband.

Pair of flintlock cannon-barreled pistols, c1650

Cavalier

Pair of flintlock cannon-barreled pistols, c1650

NAM. 1964-06-9-4

These finely decorated pistols are thought to have been carried by Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-82), nephew of King Charles I and a charismatic Royalist cavalry commander during the English Civil War.

He surrendered after the fall of Bristol in September 1645 and was banished from England. Rupert then served under Louis XIV of France against Spain, and then as a Royalist naval commander in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Following the Restoration, Rupert returned to England, becoming a senior British naval commander during the Dutch wars.

Although rifled and more accurate than most contemporary pistols, this model was expensive, and loading, by unscrewing the barrel, was a fairly slow process. The guns were made by the gunsmith William Upton of Oxford.

The Battle of the Boyne, 12 July 1690. Oil on canvas by Jan Wyck (1645-1700), 1690.

Glorious Revolution

The Battle of the Boyne, 12 July 1690. Oil on canvas by Jan Wyck (1645-1700), 1690.

NAM. 1975-08-50

King James II’s (1633-1701) attempts to secure religious toleration for Roman Catholics, and the dismissal of Protestant officers from his Army, led a small group of Protestant statesmen and Army officers to invite his son-in-law, William of Orange, to England. James fled and, in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, a Protestant monarchy was reinstated under King William III and Queen Mary II.

The deposed king still had many supporters in Ireland. On 12 July 1690 (Modern Calendar; 1 July 1690 Old Style) his army met the forces of William III (1650-1702) by the Boyne River near the town of Drogheda, about 50 km (32 miles) north of Dublin. Despite stiff resistance, William’s forces eventually broke through the Jacobite centre and right, causing a general retreat.

Although the Battle of the Boyne was later celebrated as a decisive victory for William, Jacobite casualties were comparatively light and the greater part of James’s army escaped. The battle is a key event for the Protestants of Northern Ireland, particularly the ‘Orange Order’, but the celebratory marches marking the anniversary are seen by Republicans and Nationalists as highly provocative. As a result they were often marred by violent confrontations during the height of the ‘Troubles’.

King William III and his army at the Siege of Namur, 1695. Oil on canvas by Jan Wyck (c1645-1700), 1700.

Nine Years War

King William III and his army at the Siege of Namur, 1695. Oil on canvas by Jan Wyck (c1645-1700), 1700.

NAM. 1996-04-110

A rare contemporary depiction from the Nine Years War (1689-1697), this painting has been hailed as Jan Wyck’s masterpiece. It is also unfinished, possibly left incomplete on the artist’s death, and providing an interesting insight into the way he constructed his paintings.

Situated at the confluence of the Rivers Sambre and Meuse to the east of Charleroi in the Low Countries, the city of Namur occupied a key position for control of the Austrian Netherlands.

Previously fortified by the great Dutch engineer, Baron Menno van Coehoorn (1641-1704), Namur was considered to be one of the strongest citadels. However, to the humiliation of King William III (1650-1702), in 1692 the French besieged and took the city in 27 days. The city’s defences were then improved by the French King Louis XIV’s great engineer, Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

Although it was generally considered impregnable, in June 1695 the allied army of King William III, assisted by Coehoorn, laid siege to the stronghold and retook it after two months. The Royal Regiment of Ireland led the storming of the citadel, which resulted in its capitulation on 1 September.

The taking of Namur, made famous in literary history by Uncle Toby’s mysterious ‘wound’ in Laurence Sterne’s novel 'Tristram Shandy', was the most ostentatious British achievement in the Nine Years War. However, the regiments that took part in the siege did not receive Namur as a battle honour until 1910, when it became the earliest action to be commemorated on British Army Colours.

English basket-hilted Dragoon sword, c1700.

Dragoon sword

English basket-hilted Dragoon sword, c1700.

NAM. 1989-06-40

This is a typical dragoon sword of the period, which would have been produced in large quantities. Dragoons originally rode to battle but dismounted to fight with carbines (scaled-down muskets). However, in the 18th century, their mounted role became more important, so their swords became their chief weapon.

The dragoon sword-blade is shaped like a flattened diamond. In the 1720s the design began to change to a single-edged, ‘fullered’ blade. The fuller, or groove, stiffened the blade.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Captain-General of the English forces and Master-General of the Ordnance, c1702.  Oil on canvas, attributed to Michael Dahl (c1659 -1743), c1702.

Master general

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Captain-General of the English forces and Master-General of the Ordnance, c1702. Oil on Canvas, attributed to Michael Dahl (c1659 -1743), c1702.

NAM. 2000-06-146

John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough, was arguably one of Britain's greatest military commanders. However, his successful career was not only due to his talents as a soldier but also as a result of politics and patronage.

In 1685 John Churchill vowed loyalty to King James II but, unhappy with the King's Roman Catholic policies, he transferred his allegiance to William of Orange. He was instrumental in the success of William's Protestant 'Glorious Revolution' in 1688. As a reward, he was raised to the earldom of Marlborough two days before the coronation of William and Mary. Yet three years later, he opened negotiations with the exiled James II. For this he was deprived of all his offices and was imprisoned for a short period.

Following the death of Queen Mary II in 1694, Marlborough gradually regained favour. He was helped by his wife's friendship with Princess Anne, who became Queen in 1702. Soon after, Marlborough was made a Knight of the Garter, Captain-General of the English Forces and Master-General of the Ordnance. This portrait shows him wearing the Lesser George and the Sash of the Order of the Garter.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), Marlborough led British and Allied troops to a succession of victories over the French. His most famous triumph was the Battle of Blenheim (1704), after which he named Blenheim Palace, his stately home in Oxfordshire. Marlborough's victories in this campaign secured his reputation as Britain's ablest general and the British Army was proved a formidable military force.

Lead cannon ball, weight 1.6 kg (3.5 lb), approximately 75mm (3in) calibre, recovered from Blenheim, c1704.

Cannon ball, 1704

Lead cannon ball, weight 1.6 kg (3.5 lb), approximately 75mm (3in) calibre, recovered from Blenheim, c1704.

NAM. 2004-06-50

This lead cannon ball was fired from a ‘minion’, a type of cannon with a small bore. It was recovered from the battlefield of Blenheim (13 August 1704), during the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713). The battle resulted in the decisive defeat of a French and Bavarian force, under Marshals Tallard and Marsin, by the allied English, Dutch and Austrian armies commanded by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The battle was a model example of allied co-ordination and co-operation, with the two forces attacking simultaneously. Though Marlborough's force initially suffered great losses, he ordered a feigned attack to keep the French from advancing, before launching all his available force at the centre of Tallard's army. The enemy was shattered and Tallard taken prisoner. Many of the fleeing troops were drowned in the Danube. Allied casualties were 4,500 killed and 7,500 wounded, whereas the enemy suffered losses of 38,600 killed, wounded or taken prisoner.