The Most Important Place You’ve Never Heard of
The event took place in a quiet backwater in Northamptonshire . . . few people know where. In 1645 . . . . a date we are not taught about in school. . . . and it was all over in just a few hours one sunny June morning.
The paradox being that much of entire modern history was set in motion by the events of this two-hour period.
On June 14th 1645, history was set on a different course and two hours of sharp fighting led directly to some of the most profound changes in world history.
The shift in power that unfolded that day unleashed political, economic, military and social changes that propelled Britain to world hegemony over the next 100 years. It gave birth to the parliamentary democracy on which much of the modern world now models itself. It paved the way for the freer generation and flow of capital and ideas that fostered scientific and industrial revolutions. It gave birth to the modern British Army. And it gave voice to the great British dissenting tradition, directly informing the notions of freedoms that led to the establishment of the United States of America.
Birthplace of Western Democracy
A lot has happened in the 380 years since June 14th 1645.
But much of that history can be traced back to the momentous events of that day. That morning. Those two hours that changed the world.
If the King had proved victorious at Naseby, the New Modelling experiment would have collapsed and the parliamentarian coalition would likely have been pushed into a humiliating peace treaty to negotiate an end to the war. It would likely not have been long before Charles I dispensed permanently with calling Parliaments.
The British monarchies might then have developed in a comparable way to major European powers such as France, Spain and Sweden, where the powers of divinely-ordained kings were less bounded by representative institutions. Yet because of the New Model Army’s victory at Naseby, the Long Parliament would remain sitting until 1653. Thanks to Naseby, Parliaments had ceased to be infrequent events held merely to provide monarchs with money, but instead they became a permanent institution of government.
Within four years of Naseby, the House of Commons (in the form of the Rump Parliament, shorn of the House of Lords) had become the sovereign power and means of authority through which Britain, and soon Ireland also, were governed. From 1647, the New Model Army elected its own agents.
That year its famous Putney Debates established the principle that the English were a freeborn people, and that even the ‘poorest he’ with no property of his own should have a say in choosing the government he lived under. The Army at Putney agreed to widen the franchise to include all soldiers who had been in arms for Parliament before the date of Naseby. During the 1650s, the franchise was widened (temporarily) to include voters in new seats in populous towns that had supported Parliament.
Naseby showed that the notion of the Divine Right of Kings could be successfully challenged. One parliamentarian officer, Captain John Hodgson, later reflected: ‘Amongst things that I read and heard were that the safety of the people is the supreme law both of nature and nations, and that there was a people before there were rulers and governors chosen and set over them… This hath been an old practice, whether the Government hath been monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy: the fountain hath been the agreement of the people; and that rulers and governors are accountable to the people for their misgovernment.’
Subsequent monarchs did not always learn this lesson; the failure of Charles I’s second son James II to comprehend this provoked his own overthrow in 1688. Yet thereafter, British monarchs were careful to rule through Parliament rather than without it. From the 1690s, Parliament placed itself at the heart of Britain’s fiscal military state that did so much to make possible Britain’s eighteenth-century primacy in empire, colonisation, transatlantic slavery and world trade. Britain’s mixed, unwritten constitution of Monarch, Lords and Commons was widely considered to be a source of political strength and stability.
Whilst the consequences of Naseby cannot take credit for unleashing democracy across Europe, they certainly demonstrated that sovereigns could be held to account and that successful, and more representative forms of government, including those of republics, were entirely possible.
Liberty of Conscience
Naseby had a significant impact on religious freedom.
In 1640, the Church of England was the sole legal church and attendance at worship was enforced by church courts.
People were fined for non-attendance. During the 1640s this system of discipline broke down, as Parliament failed to fully enforce their plans to reform the Church of England into a Presbyterian national church.
More radical Protestant ideas circulated in Parliament’s armies. ‘Gathered churches’ formed of voluntary congregations who began to demand liberty of conscience and freedom of worship outside Parliament’s intended Presbyterian national settlement. ‘Independents’ or Congregationalists thrived in the New Model, and the Leveller movement grew out of London’s growing Baptist congregations. By the 1650s, Fifth Monarchists and Quakers also flourished within the New Model.
In 1650 Parliament’s Toleration Act repealed the Elizabethan acts enforcing attendance at your parish church. A new and exciting religious market place opened up. Now the English and Welsh people (apart from a small minority of Roman Catholics) could legally choose the way in which they wished to worship. This toleration continued under Cromwell’s Protectorate, although Parliament was troubled by how far it should extend.
The Restoration regime rescinded toleration and restored a high Anglican Church of England. Punitive laws, later known as the Clarendon Code after Charles II’s chief minister, enforced conformity. Protestant Dissenters, especially Quakers, were persecuted and hundreds died in gaol between 1660 and 1688. But owing to two decades of religious liberty in the 1640s and 1650s, Protestant nonconformists withstood this persecution. William III recognised this with a new Act of Toleration for Protestant Dissenters in 1689.
Naseby’s consequences also had a dark side. Parliament’s victory in England enabled the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, which embedded the persecution of Roman Catholics there for centuries. But in England and Wales at least, Naseby was an important milestone in Britain’s development into the multi-faith society we enjoy today, where people are free to worship as they please.
The Right to Prosper
The Battle of Naseby, fought on June 14, 1645, during the English Civil War, marked a significant turning point in the conflict and had implications for the English people’s right to prosper.
The Parliamentarian forces, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, faced off against the Royalist army commanded by King Charles I. The Parliamentarians achieved a decisive victory, which severely weakened the Royalists and their cause.
The battle led to the capture of the Royalist baggage train, containing important correspondence and documents that revealed the king’s political strategies and aims. This allowed the Parliamentarians to expose Charles I’s intentions and gain public support for their cause.
As a result of the Parliamentarian victory at Naseby, Charles I’s authority was significantly undermined, leading to the subsequent collapse of the Royalist forces. The battle ultimately paved the way for the establishment of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell’s rule.
Under Cromwell’s leadership, the English people experienced a period of relative stability and economic growth. His policies, such as promoting trade, encouraging religious tolerance, and supporting agricultural improvements, contributed to the nation’s prosperity.
The Battle of Naseby, by shifting the balance of power in favor of the Parliamentarians, played a crucial role in reshaping the English political landscape. It led to a period of stability and progress that allowed the English people greater opportunities to prosper through improved trade, economic development, and religious freedom
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