CROMWELL (OLIVER) Autograph letter signed ("Oliver Cromwell"), probably to his fellow MP Sir John Wray, Parliamentary Commissioner for Lincolnshire, written in the summer of 1643, subscribed "July 30th" [1643]
Lot 11
CROMWELL (OLIVER)
Autograph letter signed ("Oliver Cromwell"), probably to his fellow MP Sir John Wray, Parliamentary Commissioner for Lincolnshire, written in the summer of 1643, subscribed "July 30th" [1643]; 'THIS RELATION I OFFER YOU FOR THE HONOR OF GOD, TO WHOME BEE ALL THE PRAISE' – THE CELEBRATED LETTER WRITTEN BY OLIVER CROMWELL AFTER HIS FIRST VICTORY
£ 20,000 - 30,000
US$ 27,000 - 40,000

Lot Details
CROMWELL (OLIVER)
Autograph letter signed ("Oliver Cromwell"), probably to his fellow MP Sir John Wray, Parliamentary Commissioner for Lincolnshire, written in the summer of 1643, during the early stages of the civil war and only a year after first taking up military command, describing how he marched on Gainsborough following the capture of Burghley House ("...After Burlye house was taken, wee went towards Gaynsbrowe, to a Generall Rendevouze, where mett us Lincolnesheire Troopes, soe that we were nineteene or twentye Troopes, when wee were together, of horse, and about three or foure troupes of Dragooners...") and how in the ensuing battle his cavalry managed to regroup and hold the field after their victorious charge ("...the enimie beinge upon the top of a very steepe hill over our heads, some of our men, attemted to march up that Hill, the enimie oposed, our men drove them up, and forced their passage, by that tyme wee came up wee saw the enimie well sett in two bodyes, the former a large fayre body, the other a reserve, consistinge of 6. or seaven brave Troopes, before wee could gett our force into Order, the great body of the enimie advanced, they were within Muskett Shott of us when wee came to the pitch of the Hill, wee advanced likewise towards them and both charged each upon other thus advancinge, wee came to pistoll and swords point both in that closse Order, that it was disputed very strongly whoe should breake the other, but, our men pressinge a little heavilye upon them they begun to give backe, which our men perceavinge, instantly forced them brake that whole body some of them flyinge on this side, some on the other side of the reserve, our men pursuinge them in great disorder had the execution about 4. or some say 6 miles with much a doe/ this donn, and all their force beinge goun, not one man standinge, but all beaten out of the field, wee drew up our body together, and kept the field/ the half of our men beinge well worne in the chase of the enimie..."); following this, Cromwell gives a further long account of how he then faced the royalist army under the Earl of Newcastle that had come up to lay siege to the town ("...word was brought us that the enimie had about 6. Troupes of horse and 300. foote a little onn the other side of the towne, upon this we drew some musketteers out of the towne, and with our body of horse marched towards them, wee saw two troupes towards the mill, which my men drove downe, into a little village att the bottom of the hill, when wee came with our horse to the top of that Hill, wee sawe in the bottom a whole Regiment of foote, after that another, and another; and, as some counted, about 50. colours of foote, with a great body of horse, which indeed was my Lord Newcastle's Armie, with which hee now beseiges Gainsbrowe..."); further describing how, following Newcastle's appearance, the parliamentary infantry fell back in disorder, while his cavalry by contrast managed an orderly retreat without the loss of a single man ("...our horse also beinge wearied, and unexpectedly pressed by this new force, soe great, gave off, not beinge able to brave the charge, but with some difficulty wee gott our horse into a body, and with them faced the enimie, and retraited in such order, that though the enimie followed hard, yett they were not able to disorder us but wee gott them off safe to Lincolne from this fresh force, and lost not one man, The honor of this retraite æqual to any of late tymes is due to Major Whalye, and Captaine Ascough next under God..."); and concluding the main part of the letter by bidding Wray take good heart at the favour God has shown them ("...This relation I offer you for the honor of God, to whome bee all the praise, as also to lett you know you have some servants faythfull to you, to incite to action. I beseech you lett this good successe quicken your cuntainien to this ingagement/ its great evidence of God's favor, lett not yonr businesse bee starved, I know if all bee of your minde wee shall have an honorable returne, its your owne businesse, a reasonable strength now raised speedilie, may doe that which much more will not doe after some time, undoubtedly if they succeed heere, you will see them in the bowells of your Association..."); in a postscript Cromwell wonders at the steadfastness displayed by the troops under his command, and concludes with a graphic account of how his royalist opposite number, Lord Charles Cavendish, met his end ("...I stayed two of my owne troupes, and my major stayed his, in all three, there were in the front of the enimies reserve, three or four of the Lincolne troupes yett unbroken, the enimie charged those troupes utterly broake and chased them, soe that none of the troupes on our part stood, but my three, whilest the enimie was followinge our flyinge troupes, I charged him on the reere with my three troupes, drove him downe the hill, brake him all to peices, forced Leiuetenant General Cavendish into a bogg whoe fought in this reserve, one officer cutt him on the head, and as hee lay my Capt Leiuetennant Berry thrust him into the short ribbs, of which hee dyed about two hours after in Gainsbrowe..."); with autograph address panel on verso of second leaf (heavily deleted to obscure the name of the recipient, seemingly in the latter half of the seventeenth or early eighteenth century), 3 closely-written pages, first and second leaves inscribed at head "69" and "70", hinge at left-hand border, some browning and spotting overall, with minor paper-losses at right-hand margin of first leaf, some discrete minor repairs, nevertheless in reasonably attractive condition, folio, subscribed "July 30th" [1643]

Footnotes

  • 'THIS RELATION I OFFER YOU FOR THE HONOR OF GOD, TO WHOME BEE ALL THE PRAISE' – THE CELEBRATED LETTER WRITTEN BY OLIVER CROMWELL AFTER HIS FIRST VICTORY, the cavalry charge that set the precedent for his triumphs at Marston Moor and Naseby; triumphs that helped seal the fate of Charles I and, ultimately, set Britain on the road to parliamentary democracy.

    Cromwell had left his duties as an MP and taken up arms only a year earlier. In February 1643 he was promoted, for reasons that are still obscure, from captain to colonel in the parliamentary army, and by April was effectively the senior officer in the six parliamentarian heartland counties of East Anglia; those of Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk: 'He had no experience as a militia captain, let alone as a deputy lieutenant – he had learned nothing of war from his father, his grandfather, his uncles. He was a gentleman by birth but he was not the equal of any of the men who ran the county committees or the lieutenancies of the six associated counties. Yet from the outset he, and he alone, seems to have formed a strategic plan for the defence of the region with the fierce insistence of a sergeant-major dealing with a bunch of officer cadets who had yet to realize that war was a life-and-death matter' (John Morrill, ODNB). His first significant engagement, the stiff skirmish at Gainsborough of which our letter gives such as vivid account, was something of a baptism of fire. It was, in Morrill's words, 'Cromwell's first real experience of what it was to lead a cavalry charge and maintain discipline through and after the charge. The ability to regroup victorious cavalry and to redirect them against other opponents, so crucial to his part in the victories of Marston Moor and Naseby, was learned at Gainsborough'.

    Carlisle, in his inimitable style, describes our letter as being 'from Cromwell's own hand, and evidently thrown-off in a quite familiar and even hasty fashion. Written, as would appear, on the march from Lincoln to Huntingdon; no mention precisely where; but probably at the Army's quarters on the evening of their first day's march homewards'. He adds that: 'In the Original the surname of the "Sir John" to whom the Letter addresses itself has been, probably by some royalist descendant (of mixed emotions), so industriously crossed out with many strokes of the pen, that not only is it entirely illegible, but the polite possessor of the Autograph cannot undertake to guess for me how many letters may have been in the word. On other grounds I pretty confidently undertake, nevertheless, to read Wray: Sir John Wray of Glentworth, member for Lincolnshire, and on the Committee of that County; at present, I suppose, attending his duty in London. Glentworth House is almost within sight and sound of these transactions' (Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, Appendix V).

    It was originally published, when in his possession, by the eminent collector Dawson Turner, who had, he tells us, acquired it 'upon the purchase of the manuscripts of Dr Cox Macro, which included those of our great Norfolk antiquary, Sir Henry Spelman, and of his sons. But whether these letters formed part of the latter collection, or had been obtained by Dr Macro, who was himself indefatigable, from any other quarter, is a point that it would be, most probably, now impossible to ascertain' (Papers of Norfolk Archaeological Society, 1848, pp. 45-50). It was acquired by the present owner's family from John Wilson Manuscripts Ltd., in the early seventies.
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