The Earl of Manchester, Edward Montague

Nobleman, commander, lady's man: Edward Montague, the 2nd Earl of Manchester, usually only features in Civil War histories as the Parliamentarian commander who famously fell out with Cromwell.

Portrayed in the film, Cromwell, as a boorish, fat and lazy aristocrat, Manchester was actually a tall, handsome and pious man. Although inherently cautious, he proved himself a very capable military leader and organiser.

The Earl was at the centre of the Presbyterian faction in Parliament and was the only Peer to be named alongside the 'Five Members' who King Charles famously tried to arrest. When war broke out he took on his role as a Parliamentarian general with skill and a sense of principle. His flair for logisitics helped ensure Parliament's victory against the Royalists in the first Civil War but he has become a somewhat forgotten and, at times, maligned figure.

Despite his title, he had nothing to do with the city of Manchester as we know it. He was actually the Earl of Godmanchester, which is near Cambridge, but saying 'God' was considered blasphemous so his title was shortened.

The Earl of Manchester

A Nobelman Born

The product of an old, great family from Huntingdon, near Cambridge, Edward was one of the members of the nobility who found themselves turning against the very king who had elevated and favoured them.

Born in 1602 at Kimbolton Castle, like his Huntingdonshire contemporary, the slightly older but socially inferior Oliver Cromwell, Montague went to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. When his father was created Earl of Manchester in 1626, Edward was given a barony in his own right and took the courtesy title of Viscount Mandeville.

His first wife came from the same family as the doomed Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers, a favourite of James I who had transferred himself into the affections of his son Charles. Thanks to this association, Edward won favour at the Royal court and even went with Charles on his failed expedition to woo the Spanish princess.

However, his second wife was the daughter of Robert Rich, the Puritan Earl of Warwick, and from that point on he moved in circles increasingly unfriendly to the crown.

The Earl of Manchester

The former medieval fortified house of Kimbolton Castle has been extensively remodelled and is now a private school.

'Austere, formal, kindly, gentle”, Edward seems to have had an ability for political organisation, and his house in Chelsea became a centre for the supporters of John Pym, the firebrand MP who led opposition against the King. His status as one of the leading lights of that opposition was sealed when he was the only Peer amongst the Five Members, the group of Parliamentary antagonists that Charles unsuccessfully tried to arrest in Parliament in January 1642.

The outbreak of War

Despite having no military experience, Manchester was given high rank in the Parliamentary army when war broke out. His father had died in 1642 and a year later, as the 2nd Earl of Manchester, he was made Major-General of the army of the Eastern Association ... with a certain Oliver Cromwell as one of his cavalry commanders. He regularly complained to Parliament about the quality of men and supplies he was sent but, thanks to a flair for logistics, his army became one of the most well provisioned and reliable of Parliament's forces. He also insisted that his men were pious and, the pillaging of Lincoln notwithstanding, disciplined.

For the first year of its existence it remained roughly anchored to the counties from which it had been raised - Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Hertfordshire - and his men suppressed the Royalist insurrection at King's Lynn and then moved against the garrison at Bolingbroke Castle, destroyed the force sent to relieve it at the Battle of Winceby and then took Lincoln. Yet it wasn't until the summer of 1644, when they marched north into Yorkshire, that his greatest victory occurred.

Inventory 1645

An inventory from Kimbolton Castle, date 1645 - the year of the Battle of Naseby.

The Battle of Marston Moor

Marston Moor was a major turning point of the First English Civil War. Manchester's men laid siege to the city of York alongside Sir Thomas Fairfax's northern army and the Scottish army of the Covenanters.

After attacking Liverpool and Bolton, the King's nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, crossed the Pennines, dodged the siege and forced Parliament to battle on a sloping moor between the North Yorkshire villages of Tockwith and Marston. By the time Rupert's army had assembled, the day was beginning to draw to a close and the Royalists, convinced that there would be no battle, began to light fires for their evening meal. Parliament seized the moment - attacking as a hailstorm passed overhead. As the infantry closed, Rupert's cavalry led a devastating charge against Parliament's left, scattering their horsemen and harassing the centre. In the intense fighting, the main body of Manchester's infantry began to flee and it looked as if Rupert had scored a remarkable victory.

Despite the desperate situation, Manchester was the only Parliamentarian commander who did not flee when all seemed lost, though at one point he commanded only his own regiment, which stood firm alongside their new Scottish allies. After smashing the Royalist left wing, Cromwell's disciplined cavalry, the legendary 'Ironsides', regrouped and attacked the infantry in the centre. Without the protection of Rupert's horse, which had scattered after their charge, the Royalists were doomed. The Earl of Newcastle's Whitecoats staged a desperate rearguard but were slaughtered where they stood. The scale of Parliament's triumph cannot be underestimated: Charles had lost the north of England, his reserves of veteran soldiers had been hugely reduced, and his loyal ally Newcastle - who had virtually fought a one-man campaign against Parliament in the north - fled into exile having sacrificed his army and his fortune for the King.

The Earl of Manchester

The Cautious Victor

While besieging York, Sir Henry Vane had visited the Allied commanders with orders from Parliament and during their council of war he first mooted the idea of a government without the king. As an aristocrat, the very idea horrified Manchester. While men such as Cromwell welcomed the idea of defeating Charles for good, Manchester wanted a negotiated peace and believed they were fighting to bring the King to the negotiating table. It brought him into direct conflict with Cromwell, who was already cementing his reputation as one of Parliament's leading figures. Their argument culminated with Manchester's speech to the council of war in winter 1644: "I beseech you let's consider what we do. The King cares not how oft he fights, but it concerns us to be wary, for in fighting we venture all to nothing. If we fight him a hundred times and beat him ninetynine, we shall be hanged - we shall lose our estates, and our posterities undone."

To many this sounded like cowardice, so when Manchester's over-caution let Royalist forces escape their defeat at Newbury and he then refused to engage the Royalists in the field, Cromwell had had enough and with other officers denounced the Earl's "backwardness to all action" in the House of Commons. Manchester retaliated, accusing Cromwell of extremism and "promoting men of low birth". It was certainly true that the Earl was holding back in the execution of his orders but he almost certainly hoped that the longer the war went on the more likely a compromise peace might be.

The tension revealed a growing split in Parliament between the Presbyterian and Independent factions, a scism that saw the Presbyterians forcibly removed from the Commons in the infamous 'Pride's Purge' of 1648.

The Earl of Manchester

The Earl of Manchester, painted after the Restoration by Sir Peter Lely.

The Eastern Association army had been carrying much of the burden of the war and on 19 November 1644, the Association announced that it could no longer bear the cost of maintaining its army, prompting Parliament to form its instrument of ultimate victory - the New Model Army. Four cavalry and four infantry regiments of the Eastern Association army were absorbed into the New Model, and became the pattern on which most of the other units were formed. The criticism of Manchester and the Earl of Essex also led to the Self Denying Ordinance, which was intended to remove political interference from military matters. It banned all MPs and Peers from serving in the army - although Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton were the two notable exceptions. His protests overruled, Manchester's military career came to an end but he remained active in the House of Lords and played a leading role in attempts to reach a negotiated settlement with the King.

The Montague Crest

The Montague crest above the family vault at Kimbolton Parish Church, where the second Earl of Manchester is buried.

Parliament owed him a debt it never truly recognised - it was Manchester's well-trained and well-organised Eastern Association that formed the backbone of the New Model Army. Without his disciplined veterans, the Parliamentary triumph at Naseby in 1645 and, ultimately, the victory against the Royalists, would have been much less likely.

Manchester was leader of the House of Lords when the Commons voted to put King Charles on trial. The Lords' refusal to consent to the trial forced Parliament to push ahead without their approval. Montagu then took no part in the republic that followed. After declining to take the Engagement — the oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth — he was deprived of all his offices in 1650 and retired from public life. In December 1657, Cromwell offered him a seat in his Upper House, but Manchester refused it. When the Restoration came, he was the figure who officially welcomed King Charles II into London. He, like the New Model Army's commander Sir Thomas Fairfax, had not participated in the King's trial and execution and so felt none of the wrath of his son, who made Manchester Lord Chamberlain and gave him the Garter.

Even by the standards of his age, Manchester was a lady's man. He married a total of five times and sired nine children. He died in 1671 at the age of 69, and was eulogised as "a virtuous and a generous man" and "of all men who had ever borne arms against the King ... the most worthy to be received into the trust and confidence in which he was placed".