Puritan New Model Army Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the English Civil Wars, Parliament created a professional army, the New Model Army. Under the command first of Fairfax and later of Oliver Cromwell, this army defeated the forces of King Charles I and won the Civil War. The New Model Army was England’s first standing army and established many of the traditions of the British army, such as uniforms, impressment, discipline, and professionalism.

Summary of Event

Historians identify two phases in the English Civil Wars English Civil Wars (1642-1651) . During the first, the Parliamentary and Royalist armies were fairly well matched, and no single battle secured victory. In response to the inadequate performance of both troops and generals, Parliament passed laws in the spring of 1645 that created the New Model Army. With improved professional leadership, discipline, training, and coherent logistical support, this army was able to defeat the king. The decision of Charles I Charles I (king of England) to renew hostilities in 1647 led to the wars’ second phase and his defeat, trial, and execution in 1649. After the execution, the New Model Army saw action in Jamaica, Scotland, and Ireland. After Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell Cromwell, Oliver died and his son, Richard Cromwell, proved incapable of ruling in his place, the Stuart monarchy was returned to power. Following this Stuart Restoration in 1660, the New Model Army was disbanded. [kw]Puritan New Model Army (Spring, 1645-1660) [kw]Army, Puritan New Model (Spring, 1645-1660) [kw]New Model Army, Puritan (Spring, 1645-1660) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Spring, 1645-1660: Puritan New Model Army[1580] Government and politics;Spring, 1645-1660: Puritan New Model Army[1580] England;Spring, 1645-1660: Puritan New Model Army[1580] New Model Army

The New Model Army is generally associated with Oliver Cromwell, who became its most famous—and successful—general. Likewise, the Parliamentary forces that became the New Model Army are often portrayed as entirely Puritan, although that characterization is not entirely accurate. Although Puritan voices were influential in Parliament, the Civil Wars stemmed from a wide variety of religious, economic, and political issues. When the Civil Wars began in 1642, many Parliamentary leaders sought not a revolution to replace the monarchy or to institute religious reform, but instead a way to force the king to follow the wishes of the nation as expressed by Parliament.

At first, some Parliamentarian leaders, most notably the third earl of Essex, Essex, third earl of also held field commands and seemed either unwilling to seek or incapable of seeking a conclusive battle. By 1645, leaders in the House of Commons had begun to demand more aggressive military leadership in the field and better performance from the troops. To accomplish these goals, Parliament needed to remove the existing commanders and eliminate their semi-independent forces. The result was the passage in February, 1645, of the New Model Ordinance New Model Ordinance (1645) and in April, 1645, of the Self-Denying Ordinance Self-Denying Ordinance (1645)[SelfDenying Ordinance (1645)] : The first created the New Model Army, and the second forbade members of Parliament from holding field commands.

These ordinances were intended to rectify the inherent weaknesses of the Parliamentary armies. Since no standing army existed when the war began, Parliament’s forces were an amalgam of local militias and household troops—often grandiosely characterized as regiments—that had been raised by local magnates. The local militias, often called “trained bands,” saw their role as defensive and therefore often refused to participate in operations outside the boundaries of their counties or municipalities. The personal forces of aristocratic lords, like the third earl of Essex, also exhibited systemic weaknesses. Some in Parliament feared a coup d’état from troops who might owe their primary loyalty to the lord who raised and equipped them. Since some of the existing commanders were members of Parliament, it was feared that increasing their regional forces would give such leaders tyrannical powers or, at the very least, too much influence in Parliament. Finally, these armies were plagued by the logistic difficulty of providing equipment, supplies, and wages. Periodic interruption of supplies fostered poor morale and desertion.

The new ordinances were crafted to neutralize these existing forces and assert Parliament’s supremacy. The Self-Denying Ordinance prevented existing members of Parliament such as Essex from holding commands in the army. Only Oliver Cromwell, already popular in Parliament based on the reputation he had won through military successes in the field, was given an exemption from this new law. Even then, Cromwell was at first given only a subordinate command, not overall command of the New Model Army. The third baron Fairfax, Fairfax, third baron a young and vigorous officer whose behavior was seen to be reliably neutral and less self-promoting than Cromwell’, was chosen to be the commander in chief of the New Model Army. In addition, logistical support was guaranteed by raising taxes to pay for equipment as well as the salaries for all troops. This ensured that the soldiers’ loyalty would be to their paymaster, the nation, rather than to the king or any powerful lord.

The New Model Ordinance called for an army of twenty-two thousand men. The soldiers would be organized into consistently sized regiments on the basis of twelve regiments of infantry, eleven regiments of cavalry, one regiment of dragoons, and two companies of “firelock” armed cavalry (cavalry armed with early flintlocks) that were tasked with protecting the artillery train. For consistency, regimental sizes were to be standardized and all were issued uniforms of “Venetian red” fabric with colored facings to identify the separate regiments.

Many of the personnel were recruited from the existing Parliamentary armies, but Parliament appointed officers in order to eliminate pre-existing loyalties. Since the ordinance was passed after two years of campaigning, too few new recruits came forward. To reach the required troop levels, Parliament passed ordinances allowing the army to impress (conscript) men into service. Additionally, many prisoners taken in battle were encouraged to switch sides and enlist in the New Model Army. Thus, throughout its existence, the New Model Army contained a significant number of men with little religious conviction or dedication to Parliament.

The New Model Army was created during a time of technological and tactical ferment, which was a significant reason for the high cost of raising and maintaining an army. Military;England During the Civil Wars, commanders sought to determine which tactical system was best—the Dutch system used by Maurice of Nassau or the Swedish system of Gustavus II Adolphus Gustavus II Adolphus . The New Model Army’s cavalry under Cromwell’s tutelage generally adopted the tactics of Gustavus. During this period, the armor of horsemen and pike men was lightened, mounted musketeers were introduced as dragoons, improved handguns and artillery became more common, and the ratio of pikes to muskets declined. The New Model Army embraced these changes and was generally victorious.

To keep the pressed men in service and improve their performance, strict discipline was imposed. Exercises with arms honed skills, and sanitary discipline enhanced their health. As the war continued, many officers and men became more passionate about religious discipline. Regulations forbidding swearing, for example, were enforced rigorously. This was in line with the increasingly intolerant nature of behavior in Parliament. Recent studies have shown that the growing religious dedication improved morale and cohesion. In addition, men were able to rise in the ranks through merit and skill. This improved social mobility was limited, however, for the regimental commanders and their superiors continued to be aristocrats, like Fairfax, or came from the gentry. Those soldiers who did rise in the ranks became noncommissioned or junior officers.

Parliament’s increasing radicalization and the execution of Charles I proved too much for Fairfax, who resigned following the trial. After Fairfax’s retirement, Cromwell became the commander in chief of the New Model Army, as well as the leader in Parliament. Under Cromwell’s command, the New Model Army achieved its greatest victories. Throughout its last years, the New Model Army remained potent and successful wherever it fought.


The New Model Army was England’s first standing army. As such, it established many of the traditions associated with the British army. Significant traditions include a uniform that spawned the nickname “redcoats,” conscription of citizens into the army, permanent wages based on taxation, standardization of regiments, strict discipline, and professionalism based in part on merit. Most important, because the army was created, paid, and led by the command of Parliament, it established the twin conventions of loyalty to the nation rather than to a lord or king and of civilian control of the military.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Asquith, Stuart. New Model Army, 1645-60. London: Osprey, 1999. This volume in the Osprey Men-At-Arms series provides a short, yet detailed, look at the New Model Army’s equipment, organization, and tactics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Firth, C. H. Cromwell’s Army: A History of the English Soldier During the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate. 1912. Reprint. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1992. Filled with details about the organization of the army and the daily life of its men. It is the standard upon which later works are based.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gentles, Ian. The New Model Army in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1645-1653. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1992. This is an excellent study of the politics that formed the New Model Army and a detailed look into the realities of its inner workings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gentles, Ian. “The New Model Officer Corps in 1647: A Collective Portrait.” Social History 22, no. 2 (May, 1997). This article provides invaluable insight into the origins and expectations of the middle-level and junior officers who ran the army.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roberts, Keith. Soldiers of the English Civil War I: Infantry. London: Osprey, 1996. This work provides a good description of the evolution of arms, tactics, and organizations that occurred during the wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tincey, John. Ironsides: English Cavalry, 1588-1688. London: Osprey, 2002. This title provides an excellent look at the decisive arm of the New Model Army. This is especially useful for its insight into the tactics that were used both before and during the civil war.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles I; Charles II (of England); Oliver Cromwell; Third Baron Fairfax; Gustavus II Adolphus; Maurice of Nassau. New Model Army

Categories: History