Henry Marten’s horse regiment

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:37 am, 10 July 2013]

I’ve previously shown that radical MP Henry Marten caused some trouble by criticising Parliament’s Lord General, the Earl of Essex, in December 1642 (see Winter in Windsor series). Marten went on to cause even more trouble in 1643 by requisitioning horses from various influential people, ostensibly to help him raise a cavalry regiment. I looked at some of these incidents in my book and my War in History article, but this post is the start of a more detailed catalogue of all the evidence I’ve found so far.

Although I’ve found a lot of material on Marten and his regiment that other historians haven’t said much about (mostly in the proceedings of Parliament, which I’ve linked directly to where relevant), there are some big gaps. The existence (at the time) and content of some important documents can only be inferred from passing mentions in other documents. As I’m going in chronological order, some of the proof of what I’m suggesting won’t appear until later in the story, but it should be reasonably clear by the end.

Henry Marten’s military career didn’t start very well, as he abandoned Reading when he was its governor in 1642. As a Member of Parliament and a gentleman with a valuable estate, he was still influential in military and naval affairs, using his inherited wealth to pay for spies among other things (Barber, Revolutionary Rogue, pp. x, 5, 95). In the spring of 1643, he got a commission to raise a cavalry regiment. I haven’t found a copy of this commission, although there’s a chance that it might be in the large and not very well catalogued collection of Marten’s papers in the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, where I haven’t looked yet. So all I know about it is from what peers and MPs said about it later, usually when they were complaining about what Marten was doing. It’s fairly certain that the commission gave Marten the power to requisition horses from civilians, regardless of their allegiance. This was quite common by this time, although it was still controversial. It also seems that the commission was issued by the Earl of Essex. This makes sense because he was Lord General and had the power to do it. But it doesn’t quite make sense because the conventional view is that Marten and Essex hated each other. Essex did sometimes have to give in to pressure to commission men he didn’t like – Sir William Waller is a well known example – but in this case, as I’ll show below, he seems to have ignored pressure to take Marten’s commission away again.

The first recorded incident involving Marten’s regiment was on 15 April 1643, when the House of Lords sent for a man called De Luke and ordered him to return some horses that he’d impounded from the ‘Lord of Kenowle’. Henry Marten and his regiment aren’t mentioned, but later I’ll show some evidence that this De Luke was Marten’s quartermaster. The lord is probably George Hay, 2nd Earl of Kinnoull. Peers were usually exempt from having their horses requisitioned because of parliamentary privilege (at least in theory), but Kinnoull was a member of the Scottish peerage so probably didn’t have privilege in England.

On 2 May, the Lords heard that someone had taken two of the King’s horses from the royal mews. The journal didn’t say who did it, but ‘the Parties that took them away’ were summoned to explain themselves the next day. The deputy gentleman usher reported back to the House that he had taken their orders to Henry Marten, who said that he took the horses ‘by Warrant from my Lord General [the Earl of Essex]‘, and that because he was a member of the Commons, he would get them to hear the case and report it to the Lords in a conference. Marten also reportedly said:

That he gave a particular Warrant to De Luke his Quarter Master, for the seizing of the King’s Horses; and he sees no Reason but the King’s Horses as well as His Ships may be taken, for the Service of the Kingdom.

This made the incident into a very big political issue. Parliament made a distinction between the king’s two bodies: the office of the king was separate from the person of the king, and could be controlled by someone else if the king was unfit to rule. This is now an accepted constitutional principle – most of the powers of the Crown are exercised by Parliament – but in the 1640s it was very controversial. Charles I and his supporters didn’t accept it all, and this disagreement was one of the reasons why the civil war broke out in 1642. Parliament officially treated forts and the Royal Navy as belonging to the office of the king, but the horses in the mews were Charles’s personal property. Marten seems to have rejected the doctrine of the two bodies, saying that horses and ships were the same and so they could all be taken if it was in the public interest. This is at the opposite extreme from Charles I, who insisted that Parliament couldn’t take any powers or property from him.

When they heard what Marten was reported to have said, the Lords ‘conceived this to be a great Contempt to the Honour of this House’, demanded a conference with the Commons, and resolved to ask Essex to revoke Marten’s commission. The report of the conference in the Commons Journal (including what seems to be a transcript of a letter from Marten) gives a few more details: the horses were taken to a stable in Smithfield, De Luke had taken them but sent word to Marten when he got the order from the Lords, everyone agreed that Marten did have a commission from Essex that empowered him to requisition horses. The Commons then resolved that Marten had done well to refuse to return the horses until he had informed the house, that he should keep them until the Commons (not the Lords) ordered otherwise, and that Essex should be asked not to do anything about the commission without further orders from the Commons. The conference wasn’t reported in the Lords Journal, but before it was held, the Lords ordered De Luke to be arrested for contempt because he disobeyed their order although nothing seems to have come of this (as they admitted, they couldn’t get at Marten because he was a member of the Commons).

Sir Simonds D’Ewes, MP for Sudbury, left the Commons at 11.00am that day and so missed the conference and the reaction to it, but still noted in his diary that it had happened. He wrote that the ‘fierie spirits’ (his humoralist term for the aggressive radicals in the House) had voted for the resolutions in support of Martin and made this intriguing comment on their relationship with Essex (British Library, Harleian MS 164, f. 383r):

it seames the same Earle was moore pliable to satisfie them then to satisfie the Howse of Peeres; for the saied Martins commission was not called in but hee raised his Regiment [of] horse by vertue of the same, w[i]th much violence & injurie to many: w[hi]ch hee well might for the Lords perceiving w[hi]ch way the saied Earle of Essex inclined, never at all sent unto him to call in the saied commission

J. H. Hexter would explain this sort of thing away by saying that D’Ewes was such an extreme member of the ‘peace group’ that he couldn’t tell the difference between the ‘middle group’, which Essex and John Pym were supposed to be part of, and the extreme ‘war group’, which was supposed to include Henry Marten (Hexter, King Pym, pp. 52-4). But Hexter’s analysis of parliamentary politics was based on the Whig/liberal assumption that the centre is always the most objective position and that extremists are less objective because they’re biased, which was demolished by Keith Jenkins on the grounds that all centres are false: any position half way between the extremes will change if the extremes move (Jenkins, Re-thinking History, pp. 42-7,54). Henry Marten is a good example of this because he shows that it’s always possible to be more extreme. Given the winter in Windsor incident and the vague evidence for Marten’s commission, I’m not about to suggest that Essex and Marten had become allies by this time, but there’s something going on here that no-one has properly explained yet. D’Ewes got his facts right (and that part of his diary must have been written some time later): Essex didn’t withdraw Marten’s commission, and the raising of the regiment went on to cause even more problems over the next few months, as you’ll see in the next post.

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