Laurence Spring, Campaigns of the Eastern Association (Helion, 2022)
Oliver Cromwell is unquestionably one of the most famous names in English history. After all, he led the army that all but won the Civil War at Marston Moor in 1644 and dealt the coup de grâce to the Royalists the following year. Maybe. But Laurence Spring wants to put Cromwell back into the context of the Eastern Association from which he emerged, while emphasising the other deserving players in the drama. This book is the result.
Spring begins with Oliver Cromwell appointed to captain a troop of horse and join Essex’s army. Then we are off into the war, shadowing Cromwell within the broader context of operations in which he was involved. Cromwell, though a divisive character, was tasked with raising a regiment of horse to defend the counties of the Eastern Association in February 1643. Spring’s attention is with the army as it moves on to the siege of Reading and beyond. He then returns to Cromwell and brings his narrative up to speed with wider events. This also allows Spring to analyse Cromwell’s actions and his sometimes dubious self-promotion.
In July 1643, the Earl of Manchester took command of the Eastern Association. Spring discusses the internal problems of the army and narrates its operations through 1643. Army reorganisation continued in the winter, then it besieged Newark to open the 1644 campaign season. That resulted in a serious reverse, but undaunted, Manchester kept up the pressure through the capture of Lincoln. Spring follows Manchester to the siege of York, which in turn led to the momentous Battle of Marston Moor with Cromwell commanding the left wing of the Parliamentarian army. Spring analyses that battle, and Cromwell’s pivotal role, in considerable detail. Following Marston Moor and York’s fall, Spring traces the campaigns of Crawford and Manchester then the Newbury campaign, which did not go to plan and led to recriminations in the ‘Winter of Discontent’.
Newbury proved to be the last straw dividing Cromwell from Manchester, an argument that led to mutinies in much of the army and the formation of the New Model Army for the 1645 campaign season. That opened with Cromwell sent to the west to aid Waller then into Oxfordshire with his own command. Spring leaves him there to follow Crawford and other commanders as they merged into the new model army, thus creating a national army and ending the Eastern Association in all but name. Spring concludes with a brief account of Cromwell’s rise after the war and a survey of others connected to the Eastern Association. He adds some appendices on Eastern Association cornets, a commentary on the colour plates of flags included in the book, various administrative and organisational aspects of the Eastern Association army, the Journal of Colonel Montagu’s Regiment, and a list of captured Royalist colours. A lengthy and very useful bibliography occupies the last few pages.
There is no doubting Laurence Spring’s credentials as a military historian of the early modern period. He is also an engaging writer, one who is able to analyse effectively while maintaining his narrative. This is therefore a fascinating book but probably not for beginners in English Civil War studies; Spring can get into the weeds at times. He also leans into his primary sources a bit too easily where a historian’s oversight might be more useful. Nevertheless, Spring’s understanding of his subject and his ability to transmit that to a wider audience makes this a valuable and enjoyable book.