Had there ever been an army like Sir Thomas Fairfax’s? Most people in 1649, looking back on the recent purging of Parliament, the trial and execution of the king and the establishment of the English republic — all of which would have been unthinkable but for the interventions of that army — would have answered unhesitatingly: no. Yet the army’s beginnings had been unpromising. In the spring of 1645, the Parliament had resolved to consolidate and centralize the three existing armies of the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Manchester and Sir William Waller. The new army’s troop strength was set at 22,000, with the addition of another 2,000 or so officers. Like other armies of the time, its numbers would fluctuate wildly during the course of the war. Desertion (especially among the infantry, most of whom were conscripted), sickness, and death were the chronic causes of attrition. After major victories, large numbers of soldiers would creep away with their booty. There would then be frantic new efforts at recruitment to fill the depleted ranks. Called by some the ‘New Model’, Fairfax’s army was derided by its foes in the spring of 1645 as the ‘New Noddle’. Its friends fretted over Scottish hostility towards it; over how to pay its wages; and over whether its cavalry would be any match for the king’s.
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