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John Lambert

John Lambert, 1619-1684

Gained a brilliant reputation as a Parliamentarian officer in the Civil Wars and was highly active in Commonwealth politics, leading the last military resistance to the Restoration

Son of the squire of the village of Kirby Malham near Skipton, Yorkshire, Lambert was brought up as a moderate Protestant; he was opposed to Laudianism but was not a zealous Puritan. He married Frances, the daughter of Sir William Lister, in 1639. She remained his devoted helper throughout his career.

 On the outbreak of the First Civil War, Lambert joined the Yorkshire Parliamentarians under Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax and quickly rose to the rank of colonel. He fought at the siege of Hull 1643, and was with Sir Thomas Fairfax at the battle of Nantwich, 1644. In March 1644, he retook Bradford for Parliament and soon after defeated Colonel Belasyse, who was related to his wife. He was second-in-command of the Yorkshire horse at Marston Moor, July 1644, where the Royalists lost their hold on the north of England.

When Fairfax was appointed Lord-General of the New Model Army in 1645, Lambert took command of Parliament's Northern Association army, but he was defeated at Wentbridge by Sir Marmaduke Langdale and replaced by Major-General Poyntz. Lambert joined Fairfax and Cromwell in the New Model Army's campaign in south-west England and fought at the siege of Oxford, 1646. During the political controversies of 1647, Lambert worked closely with Ireton against the Presbyterians and the Levellers. In July 1647, mutinous soldiers of the Northern Association seized their commander Poyntz and sent him to Fairfax as a prisoner. Lambert was sent back to his old command to restore order amongst the northern troops.

On the outbreak of the Second Civil War in 1648, Lambert held Parliament's position in the North against Sir Marmaduke Langdale's cavaliers and the Engagers until he was joined by Cromwell after the defeat of the Royalists in Wales. Lambert was second-in-command to Cromwell at the battle of Preston, August 1648. He was with Cromwell at the siege of Pontefract Castle, remaining in command there when Cromwell returned to London in December. Pontefract held out until March 1649, so Lambert played no part in the trial and execution of King Charles.

Lambert stayed in England during Cromwell's Irish campaign, then was appointed second-in-command to Cromwell after Fairfax declined to lead the Army against Charles II and the Covenanters. As they rode out of London to cheering crowds at the start of the march to invade Scotland, Cromwell famously remarked that the crowds would cheer just as loudly if he and Lambert were going to be hanged. Lambert fought with distinction at Dunbar in 1650, leading the cavalry charge that opened the battle. The following year, he led an advance into north-eastern Scotland, defeating the Scots at the battle of Inverkeithing. Lambert commanded the vanguard of Cromwell's army that pursued Charles II in the campaign that culminated at Worcester in 1651, the last great battle of the Civil Wars.

After the death of Henry Ireton in 1651, Lambert became one of the most prominent of the Army "Grandees". He was appointed to succeed Ireton as Lord-Deputy in Ireland, but the appointment was mysteriously rescinded before he took up his duties. Major-General Fleetwood, who married Ireton's widow, Cromwell's daughter Bridget, was appointed in his place.

It was widely believed that Lambert was responsible for persuading Cromwell to dissolve the Rump Parliament in 1653. He also drafted the Instrument of Government under which Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector after the failure of the Nominated Assembly later that year. When the First Protectorate Parliament proved difficult, however, Lambert had no hesitation in recommending that Cromwell dissolve it.

In 1655, Lambert proposed direct military government under the Rule of the Major-Generals. He was appointed governor of large areas of northern England with his seat of government at York, but preferred to remain at the centre of power in London, delegating the government of his districts to his deputies Robert Lilburne and Charles Howard. When the Second Protectorate Parliament refused to grant taxes to finance the government of the Major-Generals, Lambert urged Cromwell to dispense with Parliament and allow the Major-Generals to raise taxes by force. He quarrelled with Cromwell over the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice and led the Grandees' opposition to Cromwell's acceptance of the offer of the Crown. He refused to take the oath of loyalty when Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector for life and resigned his commissions, retiring to his house in Wimbledon with his wife and ten children, where he devoted himself to painting and gardening.

After the death of Cromwell, his successor Richard Cromwell summoned the third Protectorate Parliament, hoping to gain the support of the gentry against the Army Grandees, now led by Major-Generals Fleetwood and Desborough. Lambert was elected MP for Pontefract and although he supported him, Richard was forced by Fleetwood and Desborough to dissolve Parliament in April 1659. However, the Grandees were unable to prevent demands for the recall of the old Rump Parliament which re-assembled in May 1659 and forced Richard's resignation. The Rump then re-appointed Lambert to his command in the Army, hoping to use him as a counterbalance against Fleetwood and Desborough. He was sent against the Royalist rebels of Booth's Uprising in August 1659. Lambert easily defeated the rebels and returned to London with Sir George Booth as his prisoner.

In September 1659, Sir Arthur Haselrigg demanded Lambert's impeachment because he suspected that he was plotting a coup against the Rump. Lambert promptly dissolved the Rump at sword-point, as Cromwell had done in 1653. Haselrigg appealed to other Army generals to support the Rump against Lambert, and General George Monck, commander-in-chief in Scotland, declared that he was ready to uphold Parliament's authority. Lambert marched north against Monck in November 1659, but most of his army deserted. By then, it was generally believed that Monck intended to restore the Monarchy, and this was widely popular. Lambert was imprisoned in the Tower on his return to London.

Lambert made one final attempt to resist the Restoration. He escaped from the Tower in April 1660 and issued a proclamation calling on all supporters of the "Good Old Cause" to rally on the battlefield of Edgehill. However, he was captured at Daventry by Colonel Ingoldsby, a Regicide who hoped to win a pardon by taking Lambert.

Aged 40 at the Restoration, Lambert spent the rest of his life in prison. He was moved from the Tower to Guernsey and finally to Drake's Island in Plymouth Sound. After the death of his wife in 1676, he lapsed into insanity. He died in February 1684 at the age of 64, having spent the last 24 years of his life in prison.

John Lambert is buried in the grounds of St Andrews Church, Plymouth, although the site of the actual grave is not known.

David Plant.


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