Manchester's Men: hys regiment of foote

The English Civil War was already underway when the Earl of Manchester's regiment, known as his 'Lifeguard', was formed.

The Earl fought at the first battle of the war, at Edgehill in October 1642, but his men ran from the fight and the regiment was disbanded shortly afterwards.

His new regiment would form the nucleus of the Eastern Association, Parliament's most disciplined and effective army during the First English Civil War. But who were the men who formed this army and why did they fight?

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Birth of the Regiment The Eastern Association Who were Manchester's Men? Drums and Other Arms Infantry Cavalry

The Birth of the Regiment

We know that the regiment was recruited in Essex, which was a largely rural county but one that relied heavily on trade with London. When the King's army threatened to march on the capital after Edgehill, Parliament hurridly raised forces to protect it. But once the threat was averted, many of these men refused to continue to serve and returned home.

The regiment's existence is intertwined with that of the 'Eastern Association', the grouping of Parliamentarian counties in East Anglia - Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire. Despite their reputation as being the heartlands of the Puritans, the main opponents of the King, they were at first reluctant to submit men and money to Parliament's cause, with many hoping for a negotiated peace with the King or wishing to stay out of the conflict all together.

But by August 1643, Manchester's new regiment had been raised and sent to Cambridge. It was poorly equipped as that same month the Committee at Cambridge complained to the Deputy Lieutenants of Essex about a lack of clothing and arms for the regiment. The association's fighting men were either members of existing militias or had been conscripted into the army, either by their lords or by the army itself as it passed through an area.

The Eastern Association counties were some of the richest agricultural regions of England, but Parliament found it very difficult to raise the money needed to pay for troops and materials. Although Manchester had a knack for logisitics, he often complained the poor quality of men and arms he was sent. However, by 1644 the Association was the best run of Parliament's regional armies, and Manchester's insistence on piousness also meant his men were disciplined.

The Eastern Assocation

Once the First English Civil War was underway, Parliament ordered individual counties to raise troops. Over 1643, these were then grouped into armies based on the region they came from, including the Eastern, Western and Midland Associations.

The Eastern Association's forces were raised in Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire. The infantry was made up of trained militiamen, volunteers and conscripted men, supported by troops of gentlemen cavalry.

At first, the Association was commanded by William Grey, 1st Baron Grey of Werke. He was replaced in August 1643 by Edward Montagu, the second Earl of Manchester, who was a member of the House of Lords. Although he had once been a friend of the King's, he was one of the Peers who led resistance to Charles' policies.

The cavalry of the Eastern Association would come to be famously known as 'The Ironsides' thanks to their commander, Oliver Cromwell. A man with no previous military experience, Cromwell's troop of horse was one of the first units to become part of the Association's force. Raised his troops in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, whereas most cavalry was ill-disciplined and would often scatter after a charge, Cromwell trained his troops to quickly re-group and attack again, making them a decisive element in the two biggest battles of the first Civil War - Marston Moor and Naseby.

The Association prevented the Royalists from creating a bridgehead into the region, intervening in the siege of Reading and taking Lincoln. Manchester then led his men north to help besiege York in 1644 along with Lord Fairfax's army and the Scottish. This was unusual because counties often refused to allow their men to leave their area, arguing they had been raised for defence, not attack.The Association was part of the Allied force that crushed Prince Rupert's army at Marston Moor in July 1644, Manchester's regiment in particular helping hold the centre with the Scottish troops, despite the tide turning against Parliament.

Cracks began to appear at the Second Battle of Newbury later that year as Manchester argued with his officers and the battle's indecisive outcome led to him being accused of being unwilling to fight. When he was forced to resign his commission with the passing of the Self-Denying Ordnance in 1645, his now-veteran troops formed the backbone of the New Model Army.

Heavily influenced by the effective administration of the Association, the New Model - which was England's first professional army - went on to so decisively defeat the Royalists at the Battle of Naseby.

Who were Manchester's Men?

While we usually know the names of the generals, colonels, captains and sergeants who made up an army, there is often very little information about the ordinary men who fought during the English Civil Wars. The Eastern Association, with its haphazard recruitment affected by desertion, death and disease, is no different.

While the men from London's militias, known as the London Trayned Bands, were generally better trained and equipped, there were relatively few militias in East Anglia and, unless they had served in the on-going confict in Europe, most people would have had no experience of warfare.

The armies of the 17th Century were dividied into different types, called 'arms'. The Eastern Association was made up of mounted troops called cavalry, musketeers and pikemen called infantry, and mounted musketeers called dragoons. The cavalry would act as shock troops on the wings, charging at the enemy cavalry and attempting to drive them off; the infantry would then engage, shooting at each other and using their pikes to push the enemy back. Dragoons would be used as quick-moving units of musket to support the infantry. As they took a long time to load, musketeers could be easily attacked so pikeman would use their pikes to drive enemy cavalry away. They all had to work together to create an effective fighting force, though ordinary men were often plucked from fields and towns and then quickly found themselves facing an enemy with little training.

Manchester often clashed with his Lieutenant General of the Horse, Oliver Cromwell, particularly over his selection of officers, writing: "Colonel Cromwell raising of his regiment makes choice of his officers not such as were soldiers or men of estate, but such as were common men, poor and of mean parentage, only he would give them the title of godly, precious men..." Late in 1643, Lawrence Crawford was appointed Sergeant-Major General of the Foot. He too frequently clashed with Cromwell.

The command structure of the Association was:
Earl of Manchester
Lieutenant-General of Horse:
Oliver Cromwell
Sergeant Major-General of Foot:
Lawrence Crawford
Bartholomew Vermuyden
Henry Ireton
Lieutenant-Colonel of Dragoons:
John Lilbourne

The regiments within the army of the Eastern Association were:
The Earl of Manchester's
Cromwell's Ironsides
Bartholomew Vermuyden's
Charles Fleetwood's
Sir John Norwich's
The Earl of Manchester's
Lawrence Crawford's
Edward Montagu's
Sir Miles Robart's
John Pickering's
Francis Russell's
Thomas Rainsborough's
John Lilbourne's
Valentine Walton Snr's
The Earl of Manchester's
John Lilbourne's
Bartholomew Vermuyden's


Cavalry were the shock troops of the 17th Century battlefield. They would charge on large horses into the enemy cavalry and try to scatter them with swords and pistols, before turning on the infantry. The Eastern Association's cavalry 'The Ironsides', created by Oliver Cromwell, were famous for their discipline and were a decisive factor in Parliament's supremacy in the east. Cavalry were usually better equipped than infantry.


The face of warfare was changing by the 1640s. The musket had become the main offensive infantry weapon and would have been fired in mass volleys to cut down enemy troops. They were also much easier to train - they didn't need to be as skilled or strong as pikemen. At the beginning of the English Civil Wars there were two musketeers for every pikeman; by the end of the wars the ratio was three or four to one. Musketeers in the Eastern Association were simply dressed, usually in their own clothes with a regimental jacket.

The pike was a weapon that required good upper body strength and balance. It was used as a defence against enemy cavalry, presenting a wall of sharp points to ward them off. Big blocks of pikeman would also advance towards each other into a crush called 'push of pike', when the front ranks would draw swords and engage in deadly hand-to-hand fighting. Unlike the musket, it was considered a weapon for gentlemen because you fought your enemy up close.

Drums, Guns and Other Arms

Seventeenth Century armies weren't just made up of infantry and cavalry - in order to command the officers would need drums and colours to help move and coordinate their men. Armies would also often use mobile cannon as a way of cutting the enemt down to size.

The standard-bearer, or Ensign, was one of the most important men on the field. The regimental flag, known as 'the colours', not only identified a regiment, but also acted as a morale booster and a rallying point. The colours were often flourished before a battle in a display of bravado and standard-bearers were high ranking officers.

If the flag fell or was captured it could have a catastrophic effect on morale, so a standard-bearer would defend it with their lives. At the Battle of Edgehill, the King's standard was captured by the Parliamentarians. The Royalists retrieved it, but the standardbearer's severed hands were still holding it.

Drummers weren't just for providing a beat during the march. They were a vital part of a 17th Century army - battlefields are noisy places they signalled a commander's orders to the army by using different drum beats. They also helped intimidate the enemy and stir troops into action.

The idea of a 'drummer boy' is a relatively modern one - 17th Century drummers would have been strong, experienced and high ranking officers who could be entrusted with such an important role.

An army would often have an 'Artillery trayne', a collection of cannons that would deploy on the battlefield to hammer the enemy before the infantry engaged.

Although still relatively basic during the Civil War, front-loaded iron or brass guns that fired balls of iron were becoming increasingly important and mobile. They were especially important in sieges and could easily decimate large blocks of tightly-packed soldiers or defences.

Each gun would have had its own crew, each member of which had a specific task to perform in the loading, firing, and cleaning of the gun.