Lousy Scots and faithful Cavaliers

Soldiers and Strangers
September 8, 2006

Mark Stoyle has emerged in recent years as one of the leading local and regional historians of the English Civil Wars. He is a native of the West Country and he has focused on that part of England in two major books on Exeter and Devon (1994 and 1996) and in a steady stream of articles that have not only thrown new light on that region in the 17th century but also made a compelling case for re-examining accepted models and rationales of English local history as a subdiscipline.

The West Country is very much present as an element in his new book, but here Cornishmen take their place alongside the Welsh, Irish, Scots and foreign mercenary officers, troops and military engineers in an overview of the ethnic history of the Civil War. The result is an outstandingly original contribution to the field based on deep learning and written with panache. Stoyle has been well served by his publishers, too. A price of £25 for such a book is a bargain nowadays.

This was a period, as Stoyle makes clear, of unparalleled foreign involvement in English domestic affairs. The Civil War thus became a conflict about ethnicity and identity as well as about religion and politics. Some of what he writes about has previously received much attention. The role of the Irish and Scots in the Civil War period has certainly not lacked historians, and the term British , rather than English Revolution, has entered common parlance; Stoyle does not revisit the primary sources for these two nations in his book. Apart from his own articles, however, little has been published on the Cornish and relatively little on the Welsh. Foreign mercenaries, too, have attracted scant attention.

Stoyle deals with attitudes in the press and personal encounters surrounding the use of mercenary troops as well as the actions and events in which they figured. English views of the different "others" are covered, as are reverse perspectives, although these are often more difficult to uncover. Thus Stoyle's terminology includes key terms such as "Cambro-phobia", "Cornu-Royalism" and "Cornuphobia", "Hibernophobia" and "Scottophobia".

English chauvinist prejudices were rampant. An English officer in 1639 devoted several lines to a litany of hostile adjectives that describe "the scurvy, filthy, dirty, nasty, lousy, itchy, scabby, shitten, stinking, slovenly, snotty-nosed, villainous, barbarous, beastial, false, lying, roguish, devilish" Scots. In 1644, Queen Henrietta Maria's French troops were dismissed by Parliamentarian reporters as a "nasty, thievish, buggering, beastly" crew.

Statistics are hard to come by. Stoyle estimates that about 9,000 Irish troops were shipped into England to join the King's armies. The numbers of foreign mercenaries on the other hand defy a head count, but Stoyle provides a biographical appendix listing 105 of the most prominent or notorious of these "outlanders", showing their (sometimes shifting) Civil War allegiances. He makes clear that they were drawn not only from most of the European mainland - the term Cavalier was a re-rendering of the Spanish word caballero - but also from New England, North Africa and the Middle East.

The roll-call includes one woman, the French wife of the Earl of Derby, celebrated for her brave defence of the family home in Lancashire. Also listed is the Parliamentarian infantry lieutenant Theodore Palaeologus, a descendant of the medieval Byzantine emperors.

All this, and more, is depicted in the first part of the book entitled "The influx". Though not entirely devoid of Parliamentarians and Puritans, Wales started out in the Civil War, Stoyle demonstrates, as "the stoutest bastion of the Royalist cause"; virtually the entire country declared for Charles I in 1642. And no other English county did more than Cornwall to assist the hard-pressed King, although this was often at its deepest level "a quasi-national struggle for their own defence". Irish and, in particular, Scottish vicissitudes are carefully re-examined. Parliament's early enlistment of Scottish support soon turned into one of its greatest and most costly public relations disasters.

The second part of the book, "England's recovery", insightfully charts the liberating of England, the winning of the Welsh, the conversion of the Cornish and the expulsion of foreigners by Parliament. The Parliamentarians are convincingly presented here as indeed "the party of Englishness", the Self-Denying Ordinance of 1644 as a means of ridding the army of foreigners as well as of Presbyterians, and the New Model Army as "a national institution", "a purely English military instrument". The commonly applied description of Oliver Cromwell as "God's Englishman" thus takes on its fullest meaning in this study. And since God himself was English, as Bishop Aylmer had claimed as far back as 1559, this was indeed high praise.

The withdrawal of the last Scottish troops on English soil in January 1647 brought to an end one of the most distinctive chapters in English history. What emerged in the 1650s, it is true, was a short-lived Anglo-centric British republic. The ethnic diversity of the Civil War period, however, as this compelling and tautly argued book makes clear, remained ingrained in popular memory and in monuments and place names dotted around the English countryside.

R.C.Richardson is professor of history, Winchester University.

Soldiers and Strangers: An Ethnic History of the English Civil War

Author - Mark Stoyle
Publisher - Yale University Press
Pages - 297
Price - £25.00
ISBN - 0 300 10700 5

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