CELEBRATING YOUR PROJECTS
Alan Crosby finds out more about a project to list the names of Cromwell’s army officers
A new project lists Cromwell’s officers
The civil wars of the 1640s were proportionately the bloodiest in our history. At least 100,000 people died, out of a population of perhaps six and a half million, and the dead included civilians who were caught up in sieges and massacres. Ever since the mid-17th century, the wars have prompted passionate debate and a wealth of popular imagery has grown up around the battles and those who fought – the phrases ‘Roundheads and Cavaliers’ or ‘King versus Parliament’ conjure up powerful and evocative pictures in our minds.
But although over the years historians have described the wars, and their political consequences, little is known about the ordinary people who fought. There were tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides, many of them not the romantic cavaliers or crop-headed roundheads of popular fiction, but mere labourers and craftsmen, foot soldiers and gunners.
Now a fascinating new resource has been made available for anyone researching officers who fought on the side of Parliament. It’s the joint undertaking of The Cromwell Association and British History Online, a digital academic library hosted by the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research. For some years, The Cromwell Association has been working towards the goal of a free online directory of Parliamentarian army officers. This research, which draws upon a wide range of sources, including substantial new work in contemporary archives, has been very complex. Thanks to generous grants from the Marc Fitch Foundation and the Aurelius Trust, and supported by The Cromwell Association’s own funds, professional researchers have been employed to undertake the task, led by the association’s vice president, Dr Stephen K Roberts of the History of Parliament Trust.
The scope of the project is impressive, but inevitably it cannot be definitive: much information is lost and the armies were not well documented, so the identities of many of those who bore arms will never be known. But it encompasses over 4,000 officers of the main field armies in England and Wales for the period 1642-1645, and in some cases beyond that. Officers include those of the rank of cornet or ensign (the equivalent of a sub-lieutenant) and above. The names are arranged alphabetically, with as much biographical detail as possible.
The directory will be welcomed by a wide range of researchers, from military historians of the period to those trying to trace individuals and families. Naturally, I looked up my own surnames – no Crosbys to be found, but to my delight there are Henry and Edward Bagshawe of Chapelen-le-Frith, Derbyshire, two distant cousins of my 8x great grandfather. Edward was killed at the Battle of Tutbury in 1646!
Dr Stephen Roberts says this is the first attempt to bring information about various parliamentary armies together in one place, so it allows users to get an overall picture that wasn’t possible previously. The directory is only a beginning because “it would be possible to find out much more about particular individuals, although it would require painstaking research”. He added that the digital format “allows changes and development to take place much more easily than a printed book format”.
Of course, I asked if there were unexpected findings? The answer is the family historian’s dream or nightmare: “It has been interesting to see how often officers moved from one army or unit to another, sometimes moving far from their own native areas.” We all know what that means in terms of brick walls!
At least 10,000 people died out of a population of perhaps six and a half million
Oliver Cromwell pictured at the Battle of Marston Moor in July battle was a major 1644. The defeat for the Royalists, commanded by Prince Rupert