September 04, 2009

Book Review: Cromwell as a Soldier

>       >Numerous historians have covered the life of Oliver Cromwell over the years. These works have generally focused on the politics of the era and the political savvy of Cromwell as he rose from representing a small town in the fens as a Member of Parliament to the de facto ruler of England. However, his machinations in Parliament were equaled and even surpassed by his success as a military leader. Captain Walter H. James of the British Army commissioned the book Cromwell as a Soldier as one in a collection of military histories in the late 19th Century named after and endorsed by Major General Sir Garnett Wolseley. Written by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas S. Baldock in 1899, this volume delves into the military actions and progression of both Cromwell and what would become his New Model Army. His contention that Cromwell was a military genius is well supported by outstanding sources and pertinent quotes from the subject and his contemporaries[1]. The presentation is detailed and interesting, bringing to light many facts and realizations about the military leader.

Baldock begins his book with a brief history of Cromwell’s early life in both Huntingdon and Cambridge shires, sticking to pertinent facts as they relate to the thesis of his book. The author contends often that while Cromwell has been given his just due as a political icon, his martial prowess has also left a legacy. That legacy is not just his victories, but also the framework that would become the post-1688 regular army of Britain– the New Model Army[2]. Written in colorful Victorian speech throughout, one finds it refreshing to read English that is not fraught with modern terminology, yet not overwrought like Shakespearian prose.>>

A detailed table of contents allows the reader to find specific events within broad chapters that are broken down by major stages of the war, each one of which goes beyond the basics found in many histories. The text often includes the attitudes of the troops toward their commanders and vice versa as well as relevant political intrigue. The author provides the orders of battle for the New Model Army, although previous formations are missing. Similarly annoying are his included maps that are detailed as they show contemporary routes and places, but are severely lacking with a noticeable absence of terrain features and combatant dispositions.

Baldock’s work sports a comprehensive index that allows for easy reference. The footnotes are adequate, drawing from primary sources including memoirs and letters as well as secondary sources like official contemporary histories and printed news, additional tertiary sources seem to be solidly founded as well. The author also provides notes when he believes there is a mistake or ambiguity in the source’s text and explains some background as might be insightful to the reader without making undue judgments on the actions or motivations of the subjects. Plentiful direct quotes in the text lend the flavor of the era as the author paints a vivid picture that one can see in the mind’s eye. >>

Aptly describing the English forces as well as the political situation at the beginning of the conflict, Baldock nonetheless falls short when his story lacks explanation for some of the primary causes of the war, specifically the religious and anti-gentry movements, until much later in the book[3]. He does however redeem himself as he describes in detail, the legalities of the situation at the start of the war.  He presents both sides of the issue, drawing from sources loyal to either camp, showing a broad spectrum of both the strategies and tactics of the Royalists and Roundheads alike. 

The thesis is well supported from the explanation of the insight that Cromwell learned early in the war, through the formation his new regiment of “shock” cavalry and on to domination of the battlefield[4]. This, along with his strict discipline, understanding of soldierly men, dedication to righteousness and devout faith eventually became the core of Cromwell’s force.  Using Cromwell’s own words concerning his choice of soldiers as needing quality over quantity demonstrates how his view of men and faith dovetailed with the formation of the New Model Army[5]. Baldock explains well how the Ordinances of the New Model and Self-Denial effected Cromwell’s accession to power, detailing that it was only through multiple extensions by Parliament that Cromwell legally remained in power as he was subject to Self-Denial, which kept members of Parliament from hold military power[6].

Baldock describes the methods Cromwell used against the Royalists that would carry him through the war, including his brilliant handling of the mutinous and vengeful troops, that he seemed forced to deal with quarterly. Baldock also praised the style in which Cromwell issued orders, as he was specific about maneuvers so that subordinates were clear in their duty[7]. Chapter XXIX drives home the insight, planning and leadership that Cromwell displayed in his grasp of stratagems, tactics, training and logistics.  The claim that he was a military genius is well founded when viewed without the jaded eye of the politics involved. The author states quite eloquently as a summation of Cromwell’s overall theory on the progression of military science that:


“…the soldier of the old school sought how to avoid defeat; the modern leader seeks to crush his enemy.”[8]


Overall, the book clearly demonstrates the effect that Cromwell’s New Model Army had as the basis for the “modern” (remembering the date that the book was written) British army. It is a well thought out and carefully researched book, bringing to light many insightful tidbits while detailing those things that proved Cromwell’s mind was that of a great military man. The author’s military background is apparent as he shows understanding of the idiosyncrasies of military leadership, as well as providing insight to the layman concerning the martial arts of the day. His well-organized book has a few drawbacks, but the product as a whole is highly recommended for any student of Cromwell, the English Civil Wars or the post-war British Army.




Baldock, Thomas. Cromwell as a Soldier. London: Keagan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, 1899.


[1] Thomas Baldock, Cromwell as a Soldier (London: Keagan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, 1899), Preface.

[2] Baldock, Preface.

[3] Baldock, 1-36.

[4] Baldock, 58.

[5] Baldock, 59.

[6] Baldock, 179-200.

[7] Baldock, 517-518.

[8] Baldock, 516.

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