The British Civil Wars were largely fought by men without previous military experience. At the outbreak of war in 1642 England did not have a professional army. Instead, each county had ‘Trained Bands’, part-time soldiers who were assembled for regular practice. However, the skills and equipment of these groups of local militias were variable and they were reluctant to fight far from home. Both sides drew on the expertise of a small number of seasoned soldiers who had fought in Europe and passed on their knowledge, but each side struggled to recruit, train, pay and equip effective armies at the outbreak of war.
To begin with, both sides relied on volunteers. Parliament’s ‘Militia Ordinance’ and the King’s ‘Commissions of Array’ were laws that allowed the local gentry to raise and equip armies ready for war. These local leaders called for men to attend a ‘muster’, bringing with them whatever weapons they owned. They inspired recruits by calling on national and local loyalties and offered incentives to fight. For instance, when raising a regiment for the King in the midlands, Henry Pierrepont, Viscount Newark, reminded the men assembled in Newark’s market square in 1642 of their responsibility to defend their
‘Liberty, Laws, Religion and the just privileges of both Houses of Parliament’ as well as ‘all that is near and dear to you’.
He reassured the men that they were unlikely to be taken outside their county but promised that if this was necessary, he would not leave any man to face danger alone but would ‘care for any one of you as I would care for myself.’
Very soon, however, each side conscripted men, and the war took them far away from their homes and families.
Civil war meant soldiers and civilians were in constant contact and few parts of the country were left unmarked. Winning the war depended on both the capture of territory and victory in battle. This meant that both sides established fortified military bases or ‘garrisons’ in towns and large houses all over the country, as well as sending their armies long distances to find and engage the enemy. Armies were constantly on the move and marches of 30 miles or more in a day were not unusual. Soldiers were billeted in the homes of local people, often swamping the small communities of England such as Burmington in Warwickshire, a village with only 28 houses that quartered 450 soldiers before the battle of Cropredy Bridge in 1644. Soldiers in garrisons were dependent upon the people living in a wide area around them who were forced to give up their money, food and equipment for the army’s use. In fact, the local population were often forced to supply the armies of both sides.
In 1644, Lincolnshire was described as ‘a ruinated county.. no man hath anything to call his own or assure himself a quiet night’s sleep, they are so surrounded with garrisons both of the King’s and the Parliament’s, what one leaves the other takes’.
This devastating suffering, theft and damage can be found listed in ‘loss accounts’, when civilians recorded their trampled crops, plundered valuables and the destruction of the ordinary objects and routines of everyday life.
Parliament had a strong advantage. It controlled London and the south-east, where the country’s weapons were made and stored, as well as the navy and key ports, allowing it to import more equipment from abroad. Both sides relied on foreign imports of weapons. Famously, the King sent Queen Henrietta Maria to pawn the crown jewels in the Low Countries. She returned with mercenary soldiers, weapons and equipment, calling herself ‘Her She-Majesty Generalissima Major’ in a letter describing her procession at the head of an army that brought her through Newark and on to meet the King at Oxford, the royalist capital. Despite these attempts to meet the supply needs of newly formed armies, men like Captain John Hussey, who was killed fighting for the King at the battle of Gainsborough in 1643, went out onto the battlefield poorly equipped, wearing the remnants of family armouries.