Campaigns of the Eastern Association: the rise of Oliver Cromwell, 1642-1645


At the outbreak of the English Civil War, Parliament organised much of its fighting strength geographically; in the case of East Anglia (eventually including Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire) this was the Eastern Association, which would become arguably the most successful of all of Parliament’s armies in the first years of the First Civil War.

Author Laurence Spring is a leading expert on the Eastern Association and, in Campaigns of the Eastern Association, he makes extensive use of contemporary records and accounts. This includes the correspondence of the Earl of Manchester, a person who deserves much of the credit for the formation and development of the Army of the Eastern Association, yet whose reputation is tarnished by his relationship with Oliver Cromwell, and the willingness of history to accept Cromwell’s versions of events virtually unequivocally.

The author follows the Army of the Eastern Association as it secured East Anglia from Royalist sympathisers in 1643, then how it went on the offensive, advancing through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire against the Marquis of Newcastle’s Royalist army, culminating in the victory at the battle of Marston Moor. Then it fought alongside the remains of the armies of the Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller at the Second Battle of Newbury. The book also looks at the battles of Gainsborough and Winceby, and the sieges of Reading, King’s Lynn, Newark, Lincoln, and York.

During the winter of 1644-1645, the army was nearly crippled by religious and political divisions caused by the Presbyterians and Independent factions, culminating in a dispute in Parliament that resulted in the formation of the New Model Army. The book concludes with the disbandment of the Association’s regiments, tracing what happened to some of the combatants after 1645.

Unsurprisingly considering his place in history, Cromwell overshadows every other individual, including Manchester (who surely deserves a reassessment). The appendices detail the organisation and logistics of the army, whilst there are eight rather nice colour plates illustrating the colours (flags) of various regiments.

Given the author’s expertise, it is no surprise that his use of primary sources is excellent, and he weaves eyewitness accounts into his text skilfully, an example of which is his description of the 1643 siege of King’s Lynn. Unfortunately, however, he has fallen into the trap of assuming that Wenceslas Hollar’s c.1645 plan of King’s Lynn shows the town’s fortifications as they were at the time of the siege, something which has influenced his account of the siege itself.

As several historians have demonstrated, the siege interrupted the re-fortification of the town; what Hollar depicts is how the town would have looked a year or more after the siege, when the works had been completed. This misinterpretation of Hollar’s plan means that King’s Lynn’s importance following the siege is overlooked.

More disappointing are the maps. The one setting out the campaigns of 1643 does not indicate the River Great Ouse, which was the western boundary of East Anglia and was defended accordingly. The author’s description of the siege works around York in 1644 is particularly good, yet the various features the author identifies are absent from the map of the siege. And the poor labelling on the plans of the Battle of Marston Moor means that prior knowledge of the topography of the battlefield is necessary to make sense of them.

This aside, this is still an important study, and the author’s comprehensive use of archive material makes it the best recent study of the Army of the Eastern Association. Thus it is recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of the English Civil War prior to the formation of the New Model Army.

Campaigns of the Eastern Association: the rise of Oliver Cromwell, 1642-1645
Laurence Spring
Helion and Company, pbk (ÂŁ29.95)
ISBN 978-1915113986