Switching sides in the Civil War
A fascinating lecture on an important but rarely considered aspect of the English Civil War by one of our academics has been posted on YouTube. Dr Andrew Hopper from the Centre for English Local History gave a talk at the National Army Museum in London a few weeks ago as part of their ‘Lunchtime Lectures’ series. His topic was ‘Turncoats and Renegadoes*: Treachery and Traitors during the English Civil Wars.’
In the 48-minute lecture, Andrew explains how Parliamentarians would switch their allegiance to the Crown and Royalists defect to the Roundheads on an amazingly frequent basis. This happened at all levels: peers, MPs, officers and ordinary soldiers were all quite capable of jumping the fence and sometimes jumping back again. The record is believed to be one individual who switched sides no fewer than four times over the course of the conflict.
Some of these ‘turncoats’ were trying to save their own skins (or families, or land) while others may have been tempted by better opportunities for pay or promotion in the opposing army. Defections could take place en masse and a number of important sieges owed their outcome to treachery rather than tactics.
Generals factored possible betrayal by their own men into their battle plans while also scheming to turn the enemy’s forces to their own side. And losing generals were often swift to blame their defeat on traitors in the ranks rather than admit their own culpability.
As Andrew demonstrates, the pamphleteers of the day took great delight in savaging those notables who were perceived to have changed horses in midstream and for many years afterwards the worst insult that could be hurled at any man was to call him a ‘turncoat’.
Dr Hopper has recently delivered the manuscript of his book Turncoats and Renegadoes: Changing Sides in the English Civil Wars which will be published by Oxford University Press next year. He has previously written on the subject in a paper entitled ‘The Self-fashioning of Gentry Turncoats in the English Civil Wars’ which was published in the Journal of British Studies (vol.49, no.2, April 2010, pp. 236-57) and is available to read in the Leicester Research Archive.
*This is not a typo. ‘Renegado’ is an archaic form of ‘renegade’. For example. Sir Richard Grenville was denounced as “the grand apostate and renegado of England.”