The Birthplace of the British Army
The British Army of today traces its lineage back to the soldiers who fought in the New Model Army during the English Civil War.
One significant battle that showcased the strength and effectiveness of the New Model Army was the Battle of Naseby.
Taking place on June 14, 1645, the Battle of Naseby was a pivotal moment in the English Civil War. The New Model Army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, faced off against the Royalist forces led by King Charles I.
The New Model Army was a formidable force, comprising well-trained and disciplined soldiers. At Naseby, they employed innovative tactics, using disciplined infantry, combined arms, and cavalry to great effect.
Under the leadership of Fairfax, the New Model Army won a resounding victory at Naseby, effectively crushing the Royalist forces. This triumph marked a turning point in the English Civil War and demonstrated the power and capabilities of the New Model Army.
The legacy of the New Model Army’s success at Naseby endured long after the civil war. Its disciplined soldiers and military strategies laid the foundation for the modern British Army. The principles of professionalism, training, and organization established by the New Model Army continue to influence the British Army’s structure and operations to this day.
Thus, the British Army of today can be traced back to the soldiers who fought in the New Model Army, with their contributions and achievements, notably showcased at the Battle of Naseby.
New Model Army
The Battle of Naseby was a major victory for the New Model Army, which became the origins of today’s British Army.
Its infantry and dragoons were the first uniformed army in Britain since the Roman Legions. After three years of stalemate, Naseby was the first time that a royal army headed by the king’s person was decisively defeated in the field. The capture of almost all of the royalist infantry at Naseby was catastrophic as it proved impossible for the King to replace them. Naseby set in train a remarkable series of uninterrupted parliamentarian victories that ended the First Civil War within twelve months.
The triumph at Naseby affronted parliamentarian critics who had hoped that the New Model experiment would fail, such as the MP Denzil Holles who had called its officers ‘a notable dunghill’. Naseby shifted the balance of power at Westminster towards those MPs who wanted to pursue a decisive military victory over the King. It also lessened the political power of Parliament’s allies, the Scots Army of the Covenant. Naseby confounded those royalists who scorned the New Model’s fighting capacity as the ‘new noddle’, and the King who had referred to its commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax’ as ‘the rebels’ new brutish general’. The capture of the King’s correspondence on the battlefield revealed Charles I’s duplicity and eroded his support. After Naseby, royalist forces were often readier to surrender if offered decent terms. Side-changing increased, weakening the royalists, alongside internal recriminations among their officers as local forces and garrisons capitulated.
Ultimately, Naseby vindicated the establishment of a new, centrally administered, national force, commanded by experienced, younger officers chosen for their commitment and competence. This Army transformed over time, gaining in military and political confidence with every victory they felt God had granted them. When their enemies in Parliament sought to disband them without settling their pay and indemnity in 1647, the Army seized control of the King and reminded Parliament of its promises to them. The Army’s losses and hardships in the Second Civil War restarted by Charles I in 1648 led to them becoming the driving force behind demands for the trial and execution of the King as the ‘capital author’ of the war. The role of the New Model Army in the regicide of 1649 and in sustaining the Cromwellian Protectorate from 1653 to 1659 has led to the British establishment’s intense political distrust of standing armies ever since. This helps to explain why the Army does not, unlike the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, enjoy regal designation.
Victory by the parliamentarians established their right to a permanent role in the government of the kingdom.
The return of the monarchy after the brief experiment with republicanism demonstrated the English people turned their back on the “son of man who pretends to be a god”.
The shift in power that unfolded this 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 from which much of the modern world drew inspiration. 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.
The regimental system, a fundamental structure in military organisation, emerged over time as armies transitioned from feudal levies to professional standing forces.
Its origins can be traced back to the late medieval period in Europe. During this time, leaders started grouping soldiers into organised units based on shared characteristics, such as geographic origin or specialised skills.
As warfare evolved, particularly during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) where many officers from both sides of the English Civil War served and gained valuable experience and knowledge, the need for more standardised and coordinated military formations became apparent.
Standing armies began to form, and regiments, consisting of multiple companies, became essential administrative and tactical units.
The English Civil War (1642-1651) further solidified the regimental system, with the New Model Army’s establishment which was formed from the remains of three older Parliamentarian armies.
This structure enabled better training, discipline, and command, laying the foundation for modern military organisation that continued to develop in subsequent centuries.
Several British regiments can trace their lineage back to the Battle of Naseby.
Charles II was the first British monarch to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Financed by a new Parliament, it included Royalist units from his exile, like the King’s Troop of Horseguards (later to be known as The Life Guards), and old regiments from the New Model Army which were disbanded and then subsequently re-mustered – such as Monck’s Regiment (later The Coldstream Guards).
April 1659 – Richard Cromwell deposed by the army
January 1660 – General Monck marches into England from Coldstream in Scotland
February 1660 – Monck allows moderate MP’s to return to Parliament
May (1st) 1660 – Parliament votes for Restoration of Charles II
May (25th) – Charles II lands at Dover
August 1660 – New model Army is disbanded by Convention Act
January (26th) 1661 – Charles II issues warrant creating the British Army.
The possibility of absolute monarchy died with Charles I. Indeed, attempts by another of his sons, James II, to strengthen royal power, including using the army as an instrument of political control, led to his downfall in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.
(Source: The National Army Museum)
How does Naseby relate to my life today?
The NBFP plans to engage with volunteers and research and document the links between the battle and its outcomes and how that has affected people’s lives today. It is important to understand and document how our heritage has shaped and continues to shape our future.
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educating and inspiring as many as possible about the enduring importance of what happened over 2 hours at Naseby. you can
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