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Henry Ireton and the English Revolution

Henry Ireton and the English Revolution

David Farr
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Henry Ireton and the English Revolution
    Book Description:

    A devout puritan, Henry Ireton was an immediate parliamentarian activist rising to the rank of Commissary-General of the New Model Army. Ireton shared Oliver Cromwell's religious enthusiasm and acted as one of his political mentors. Ireton, more than any other individual, even Cromwell, brought about the execution of Charles I. Indeed it was Ireton's influence, symbolised by his marriage to Bridget Cromwell, that did much to persuade Cromwell to become a regicide. Ireton's importance was through the theoretical and practical framework he provided for the revolution of 1647-9. As the 'penman' of the revolutionary army Ireton was an author of its significant political statements. Ireton was at the heart of the army's ‘Heads of the Proposals’, their attempt at settlement with the king in 1647, he was its chief negotiator with the Levellers at the Putney and Whitehall Debates and Ireton was chiefly responsible for the 1648 ‘Remonstrance’ that justified the army's purge of Parliament and called for execution of justice on Charles I. In 1649 both Ireton and Cromwell embarked on the conquest of Ireland, Ireton remaining there as Lord Deputy until he died on campaign in 1651.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-476-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Introduction: The two ‘deaths’ of Henry Ireton, 1651 and 1661
    (pp. 1-14)

    On 15 May 1660 the Convention Parliament ordered that justice be meted out on the regicides Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, John Bradshaw and Thomas Pride. For a Parliament that had welcomed monarchy back to England there was nothing surprising about initiating revenge against those who had committed the act that had led to eleven years of republican rule. What was different of course was that all four men were already dead. For the justice required by this Parliament to be enacted their bodies would have to be dug up, taken to Tyburn, the traditional place for the execution of traitors,...

  6. 1 The making of Henry Ireton, 1611–1642
    (pp. 15-43)

    Henry Ireton was baptised on 3 November 1611 in Attenborough, Nottinghamshire.¹ The Iretons had moved from the area of Kirk Ireton, Little Ireton or Ireton wood in Derbyshire into Nottinghamshire at some point after 1600. In 1544 a German Ireton of Little Ireton made his will after being appointed to go in the retinue of the Earl of Shrewsbury against the Scots.² Ireton’s grandfather, William, was still described as ‘of Ireton’.³ In his will of January 1604 he was referred to as of ‘Little Ireton’.⁴ Henry Ireton’s father, another German Ireton, was also described as ‘of Ireton’ in 1591.⁵ The...

  7. 2 Reshaping, 1642–1647
    (pp. 44-75)

    Despite the limits of the evidence of what shaped Ireton to take the stand he did in 1641–42 there is no doubt about his active Parliamentarianism during these years. By October 1641 contemporaries regarded him as a Parliament man.¹ The experience of war, however, fighting and living alongside other godly men as a member of the Eastern Association and New Model Army, reshaped Ireton.

    There is evidence of Ireton’s activism before the official start of the civil war in August 1642. Ireton and Thornhagh took a protest to Parliament because of the obstruction of a petition, to which they...

  8. 3 ‘Penman’ of the army, 1647
    (pp. 76-98)

    Gentles has argued that ‘the agitators may have forced the pace of events until 4 June, but on the 5th the grandees, perhaps led by Ireton, moved for the creation of a council of the army’.¹ Many might have had sympathy with the adjutators’ agenda but wanted leadership from the officers. Later, in May 1649, a keen observer of army politics commented:

    though God made them [the adjutators] Instruments of much good, yet I would rather wish those that sitt at the helme would so act and steere theire shippe as that there may be no need of them to...

  9. 4 Putney, 1647
    (pp. 99-117)

    Putney needs to be set in the context of previous army proceedings and the continuing desire of the soldiers to maintain unity. Woolrych warned us to ‘be very cautious about treating the Putney debates, wonderful as they are, as the typical voice of the army’.¹ Evans argues that ‘the Debates were essentially concerned with the search for, and definition of, practical answers to the pressing “strategic” problems’.² Reece cautions that the ‘rhetoric of Putney should not blind us to the fact that the vast majority of the rank and file and junior officers united behind their leaders in pursuance of...

  10. 5 Radicalisation, 1648
    (pp. 118-137)

    The escape of Charles I from Hampton Court in the short term may have reinforced the need for unity in the army, but it radicalised Ireton’s thinking with regard to the King. At Putney Ireton and Cromwell had come under increasing pressure from fellow officers and agents who did not believe that settlement with Charles could be achieved. Charles’ reaction to the Heads and the debates at Putney reinforced for Ireton the need for Charles’ actual role to be even more circumscribed than he had proposed in 1647. For Ireton the King still had to be used as a means...

  11. 6 The Remonstrance, 1648
    (pp. 138-158)

    The Remonstrance, drafted principally by Ireton in November 1648, marked the political conclusion of articulating Charles’ guilt and equating him with those royalists who had already been executed. It is likely that Ireton believed Charles should die. Enacting this was, however, rather different. Ireton believed that justification for the regicide existed but he had concerns about the consequences and needed to prepare the framework for its justification, but also a means of proceeding that could take other, less determined men along with him. Deliberately choosing his words with care, rather than the Remonstrance being ‘a mist of circumlocutions’ and ‘dark...

  12. 7 Purge, 1648
    (pp. 159-177)

    The army’s allies in Parliament had first approached the generals to stop any negotiations by their fellow MPs at the end of the second civil war, and about one month before the beginning of the Newport Treaty negotiations. It appears that Ireton hoped that the inevitable failure of the treaty negotiation would turn more MPs against the King. He felt some direct action by the army against Parliament would, at some point, also be necessary.¹ The Remonstrance informed the Commons that the army wanted them to ‘forbear any further proceeding in this evil and most dangerous treaty, and to return...

  13. 8 Regicide, 1648–1649
    (pp. 178-203)

    The army leadership’s hesitation following the purge grew out of the need for genuine reflection with regard to the nature of any future political settlement. The Whitehall debates were designed to facilitate this process and, for Ireton, to forge as broad an Agreement as possible to give legitimacy to any new regime in the hope of establishing and maintaining civil peace. Lilburne, for his part, argued that the Whitehall debates were engineered by the army leadership to keep the Levellers and army radicals occupied.¹ This has been accepted by Underdown.² Ireton’s approach to the Whitehall debates would suggest otherwise.


  14. 9 Ireland, 1649–1651
    (pp. 204-220)

    John Cook, Ireton’s associate, regarded Ireland as ‘a white paper’. There is little reason to doubt that Ireton shared this view. He stated that he went to Ireland due to ‘the great encouragment that I had from Cromwell and Ireton and many honourable persons in the army, who were pleased to say that Ireland was like a White Paper’.¹ The leaders of the New Model Army, motivated by their religion, believed that a war of re-conquest allowed them to start afresh and reform Ireland. For some it would also provide a model for England. Cook stated that ‘though Ireland be...

  15. 10 Lord Deputy, 1650–1651
    (pp. 221-243)

    After Cromwell’s departure Ireton assumed control of English military and administration within Ireland. The limited time that Ireton spent in Ireland makes assessment of his rule problematic. This period witnessed only the beginning of English attempts to remodel Ireland. Yet Ireton’s actions and statements still indicate his own ideas with regard to how the New Model’s limited control of Ireland should be translated into settlement. As Lord Deputy, Ireton was, in practice, President of the Parliamentary Commissioners, but was also appointed as Lord President of Munster.¹ In these capacities Ireton’s statements and actions show how he shared Cromwell’s views with...

  16. Conclusion: Henry Ireton and the English Revolution
    (pp. 244-247)

    Ireton’s contemporaries had no doubt of his central role in the English Revolution. His political enemies and army allies all regarded Ireton as the arbiter of army political strategy, its ‘alpha and omega’.¹ From September to December 1648 Ireton drove the New Model to purge Parliament, the institution that was its political master. In the subsequent six weeks his relentless energy would have been crucial in maintaining the nerve of those who recognised that the monarch had to die. In this, Ireton’s influence would have especially told on Cromwell.

    As with others Ireton has remained in Cromwell’s shadow. This is...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 248-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-278)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)