John Lambert - The First Civil War.
At the outbreak of hostilities in the in September 1642 John Lambert appointed a captain of horse in the army commanded by Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax. He was actively involved in the Battle of Tadcaster where his brother in law, William Lister, was killed. Lambert was then ordered to garrison his father-in law’s house in Thornton in Craven to ensure a Parliamentary presence in the north west of the county and guard the way into Lancashire via Clitheroe. He would, however have fought with Fairfax’s cavalry as and when the opportunity presented itself.
Lambert conducted a siege of Skipton castle, home of the Earl of Cumberland, who begged Queen Henrietta for assistance. The regiment she sent to his aid was routed by Lambert and this brought him to the notice of the Parliamentary national press who reported his victory with some relish.
The Royalists under the Earl of Newcastle gradually gained the ascendancy in spite of the energetic and aggressive attempts of the Parliamentarians of the Northern Association under the Fairfaxes. The defeat at Adwalton Moor was a serious blow and Lambert was forced to retreat with the Fairfaxes and the surviving Parliamentarian army to Hull.
Here, besieged by the Royalists, Lambert was again constantly in the thick of the action. On the 4th October 1643 he led a sortie of cavalry with Sir John Meldrum and Thomas Rainborowe against the besiegers in an engagement that ebbed and flowed lasting some 15 hours. The Marquis of Newcastle gave up this long and futile siege of Hull soon after having achieved nothing and wasted much time and resources in the process. However, in Newcastle’s defence, it is relevant to point out that Hull was almost impregnable, being very well fortified and also supplied from the sea..
Lord Fairfax sent Lambert back to Thornton to recruit and train more men. The Royalists at Skipton, reinforced by some of Newcastle’s own cavalry, attacked Lambert’s men at Calton driving them into Airton Hall which they stormed and took 60 prisoners. Lambert, undeterred, continued to recruit in the district before being ordered to Cheshire where he joined Sir Thomas Fairfax. On the 24th January 1644 Fairfax defeated a large Royalist army under Lord Byron and relieved the siege of Nantwich. Fairfax praised the conduct of Lambert during the battle in his reports of the engagement.
Lambert was ordered back into the West Riding of Yorkshire by Fairfax in February 1644. He was promoted to Colonel and given command of a regiment of infantry, John Bright’s Regiment of Foote, which was 800 strong and contained several hundred of Fairfaxes own veterans from his Yorkshire campaigns including Captain John Hodgson. Also included in the force were 8 troops of cavalry numbering about 800 troopers in total. Lambert marched his force over the Pennines to Halifax then north to Keighley and turning south down the Aire valley to Bradford.
He encountered little opposition en route and is thought to have retaken Bradford from the small Royalist garrison after a short encounter on the 3rd March 1644. However a well known source suggests that this was by no means an easy task and records that Lambert faced a large Royalist force under the command of Henry Belasyse himself. This force outnumbered Lambert’s by 3 to 1 and in the ensuing 7 hour battle Lambert’s men eventually triumphed taking around 100 prisoners. The writer considers the first scenario more likely.
Lambert set up his headquarters in Bradford and from there was able to strike at the Royalists in the West Riding retaking both Halifax and Howley Hall. On the night of the 5/6th March Lambert and his cavalry routed 11 troops of Royalist cavalry at Kirklees trapping them in a bend in the River Calder. In the battle that followed the Royalists were unable to escape save for a few who swam the river. Many were killed and a large number of prisoners taken.
With the invasion of the Scots the Marquis of Newcastle was forced to send half his army north to face the oncoming threat. The war in the region was now turning in favour of the Parliamentarians due to the Scottish army advancing south and efforts of Lambert in the west and Lord Fairfax in the east. Sir Thomas Fairfax was ordered back into Yorkshire to take advantage of the improved situation.
In an effort to dislodge Lambert from Bradford Henry Belasyse made a belated attempt to retake the town on the 25th March. Heavily outnumbered Lambert’s men overcame this disadvantage thanks to the sound leadership, boldness and strategy of their Colonel, who was now clearly becoming recognised in high places as a soldier and commander of considerable flair, ability and determination. Lambert drew Belasyse towards Bradford by advancing 300 of his men from the town. Even so they were able to take 300 prisoners. Lambert then unleashed a full attack which routed the Royalists and took 200 further prisoners. The Royalist cavalry fled and Belasyse and his remaining force were forced to withdraw and lick their not inconsiderable wounds.
With the west of the county now firmly under Parliamentarian control Lambert marched with his force to join Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lord Fairfax and Sir John Meldrum at Ferrybridge on the 8th April.
On the 11th April 1644 this combined force defeated Henry Belasyse and his Royalist army at Selby. Belasyse was taken prisoner and this victory for the Parliamentarians effectively eliminated a large portion of the Royalist army in Yorkshire and prepared the way for the siege of York.
Lambert was heavily involved in the Battle of Marston Moor on the 2nd July 1644 being in command of the second line of cavalry on the Parliamentarian right flank in support of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Advancing over broken ground the Parliamentarian cavalry on the right was in some disarray and Lord Goring for the Royalists seized his opportunity and launched a formidable charge sweeping much of the Parliamentarian cavalry before them and chasing them from the field. Lambert and a few of his troopers were able to fight their way across to the left flank where they joined Cromwell’s Eastern Association cavalry and the Scots cavalry under David Leslie. Sir Thomas Fairfax also managed to make his way over to the left. Here they participated in the successful manoeuvre and engagement which were crucial to the crushing defeat of the Royalists. York was soon to surrender and John Lambert and Sir William Constable were both chosen to negotiate generous surrender terms with the surviving Royalist garrison.
Lambert was then involved in the siege of Pontefract Castle and also to sent north to secure the Craven area. Here he was seriously wounded in an action at Plumpton and was sent to London to recover.
During this time he appears to have been more at the centre of power and was able to privately inform Sir Thomas Fairfax of various developments including the formation of the New Model Army and Fairfax’s proposed appointment at its head.
Early in 1645 Lambert was appointed to command Parliament’s Northern Association Army and was was one of the few northern officers given command in the New Model Army. He was soon back in action in the north at the siege of Pontefract but was defeated at Wentworth by a relieving Royalist force under Sir Marmaduke Langdale. He was wounded again.
Lambert was not involved in the Siege of Oxford or the Battle of Naseby. He was ordered south at this time arriving just after Naseby and was in the force designated to pursue the King.
Based at Lym Lambert and his regiment were involved in a series of encounters in the south west including the siege of Dartmouth. At this time he was designated Colonel of Sir William Montague’s infantry regiment as well as his own cavalry unit. With the surrender of Dartmouth Lambert accompanied Sir Thomas Fairfax into Cornwall and was a commissioner for the surrender of Truro. In April he was commissioner for the surrender of Exeter.
With matters in the south west now resolved Lambert was once more on the move, this time to Oxford where he was a commissioner along with Henry Ireton. Following the surrender of Oxford Lambert’s reputation was such that he was appointed Parliamentarian governor of the city and remained in this position until the end of the Civil War.
Lambert’s experience in the wars seem to have influenced him in his later thinking and he took a more radical position than either of his kinsmen and mentors Sir William Constable and Sir Thomas Fairfax. Both Constable and Fairfax were unhappy with the politicisation of the army and the role being played by several senior officers and commanders in subsequent post war politics. Neither were comfortable in this environment and were reluctantly swept into this arena by the political developments at that time.
Lambert on the other hand was very much at the centre of the army’s drive to a direct settlement over their many and justified grievances. These differences of attitude between the 3 men became more clearly defined after the second Civil War in 1648.
However, in spite of their differences on political and policy matters, the relationship between the 3 clearly remained unshaken and social and economic links between the families continued with Lambert assuming the leading role amongst the former Lister grouping of Yorkshire gentry as his reputation and influence grew.
Lambert’s experience in the First Civil War had undoubtedly made a mark on him and he was outspoken in his dislike of the Royalists or “Ye Cavileers” as he refers to them.
The army and Lambert were thrust into the political arena in 1647 when Parliament failed to remedy the many and justified grievances of the New Model Army. These centred around arrears in pay which were huge, estimated at over £600,000. Many men had not received any pay at all for over a year. For example Parliament owed Sir Thomas Fairfax’s own regiment 13 months pay and proposed to give them only 2 months pay in settlement. The cavalry had not been paid for 43 weeks.
Other important matters that concerned the army were assurances of regular pay in the future, pay of arrears on disbandment of regiments and impressment for service in Ireland. Parliament wished to disband half the army and send the other half to Ireland and seemed determined to force a confrontation with the military to bring matters to a head.
In March 1647 a petition was circulated throughout the army, probably at the instigation of Henry Ireton. Parliament responded with a counter declaration and matters were becoming increasingly tense and bitter between the 2 parties. Lambert was prominent in directing all officers not to volunteer for service in Ireland until their grievances had been settled. At a meeting of over 100 officers in April a committee was elected to represent them all and Lambert was chosen as their spokesman. He continued to express the grievances of the officers and soldiers with great determination and astuteness using his obvious intellect and legal training to good effect.
More radical army officers, including some officers in his own regiment, wrote and circulated pamphlets expressing ideas of their own, more far-reaching that Lambert’s stance. Deputations from Parliament to the army made no progress. Parliament then voted 6 weeks pay to soldiers of regiments to be disbanded. This was quite understandably greeted with outrage.
Cromwell was still in favour of negotiating a settlement with the King. Lambert assisted Henry Ireton in drawing up the Heads of the Proposals, “the Armies Treaty” which was signed by Sir Thomas Fairfax and presented to the King. This was a much watered-down version of the Levellers’ "The Agreement of the People" and gave many concessions to the King. If this settlement had been accepted by the King, it would have created a Constitutional Monarchy as early as 1647. The King rejected this document.
In August 1647 Lambert , now Major-General, returned to the north to resume his command of the Northern Association Army. He suppressed a “Leveller” mutiny among his troops although in some respects was closely aligned with the malcontents and sympathised with their cause. His wise and just managing of affairs in the north were commended by those on all sides and he was widely respected. He kept strict discipline and hunted down the “Moss-troopers” ( renegade soldiers and brigands ) who infested the moorland country. He was also instrumental in disbanding certain regiments whilst setting orders to satisfy the requirements of the soldiers involved. The regiments retained were his own and those of reliable and close associates, Lilburne, Bright, Mauleverer and Charles Fairfax.