he New Model Army, one of several parliamentary armies which played an important role in the English Civil Wars, came into existence after the dispersal of Waller's Army and the indecisive second battle of Newbury. Organized by parliament early in 1645, and commanded initially by Sir Thomas Fairfax, it was formed initially from existing armies, but composed solely with a view to military efficiency and competency.
It rapidly became an approximation of a national army, recruited nationally and not from any one locality. Unlike the soldiers who formed almost all previous and contemporary armies, Cromwell's soldiers, as the early Victorian historian Macaulay explains, were "composed of persons superior in station and education to the multitude. These persons, sober, moral, diligent, and accustomed to reflect, had been induced to take up arms, not by the pressure of want, not by love of novelty and license, not by the arts of the recruiting officer, but by religious and political zeal."
This army acquired a reputation for firm discipline, high morale, and promotion by merit and religious and political radicalism as a consequence of its victorious record and the personal influence of Cromwell, who eventually became its leader.
According to Macaulay,
In war this strange force was irresistible. . . . [Cromwell's] troops moved to victory with the precision of machines, while burning with the wildest fanaticlsm of Crusaders. From the time when the army was remodelled, to the time when was disbanded, it never found, either in the British islands or on the Continent, an enemy who could stand its onset. In England, Scotland, Ireland, Flanders, the Puritan warriors, often surrounded by difficulties, sometimes contending against threefold odds, not only never failed to conquer, but never failed to destroy and break in pieces whatever force was opposed to them. They at length came to regard the day of battle as a day of certain triumph, and marched against the most renowned battalions of Europe with disdainful confidence. . . . it was ever the fashion of Cromwell's pikemen to rejoice greatly when they beheld the enemy; and the banished Cavaliers felt an emotion of national pride, when they saw a brigade of their countrymen, outnumbered by foes and abandoned by allies, drive before it in headlong rout the finest infantry of Spain, and force a passage into a counterscarp which had just been pronounced impregnable by the ablest of the Marshals of France.
But that which chiefly distinguised the army of Cromwell from other armies was the austere morality and the fear of God which pervaded all ranks."
Although Cromwell's troops never drank and gambled in camp or raped and pillaged their defeated opponents, their ideology led them to destroy church art and attack clergy with whose views they disagreed.
After the Irish campaigns of the late 1640s and the slaughter of the Irish garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford, confiscated the best third of Irish land formerly held by Catholics, and gave it into the hands of his Puritain soldiers, establishing a deep and lasting division between Catholic and Protestant in Irish society.
Last modified April 1997; links last added 20 February 2000