This analysis of “Naseby” is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.
THIS poem represents the views of a Roundhead soldier who fought in the great civil war between King Charles I of England and the Parliamentary troops under Oliver Cromwell. Naseby is a small village in Northamptonshire, in central England, and one of the most important battles of the war was fought there on June 14, 1645. The Roundheads were led by Cromwell, Lord Fairfax, and General Ireton, and the Cavaliers, or Royal Army, by Prince Rupert. King Charles himself watched the battle from a neighboring hill.
The battle was a defeat for the King’s army, and his troops were so badly beaten that the Cavaliers engaged in no more meetings with their foes. Not long afterward Charles became a prisoner of Parliament, and was tried and beheaded by them in 1649.
The Roundheads were fond of using phrases from the Bible, and the speaker of this poem indulges in many allusions to the Scriptures. His party called themselves the Saints of God, and fought with all the bitter zeal of religious fanatics. He refers most bitterly to the Cavaliers and their leaders, to the “man of blood,” King Charles, with his long, curling, perfumed hair, to Lord Astley, who commanded the Royalist infantry, to Sir Marmaduke Langdale, and to Rupert, Prince Palatine of the Rhine. In contrast to these sinful leaders the Roundhead general rode before his troops with the Bible in his hand.
The battle began with the cheers of the two sides. Then Prince Rupert charged, to the sound of clarions and drums, leading, as the Roundhead says, his ruffians from Alsatia, the slums of London, and his lackeys from the King’s palace of Whitehall. The Roundheads grasped their pikes and stood manfully, but the charge broke their left wing. Major-General Skippen was wounded, when suddenly Cromwell himself dashed to the rescue of that side of his army. The Roundheads charged behind him, and in their turn broke the Cavalier line. Cromwell pursued; the gallants retreated, trying to save their heads that the Roundheads would like to set up on Temple Bar in London, where the heads of traitors were shown to public view; and King Charles turned and fled.
The speaker calls on his friends to strip lockets and gold from the slain Cavaliers, and then cries shame on the luxury-loving men who were so fond of silks and satins, of music, of theatres, and of cards. He wants to destroy the mitre of the Bishops of the Church of England and the crown of the King, the wickedness of the court and the love of wealth of the Church. Oxford, which sided with Charles, Durham, the seat of a great cathedral, shall be downcast, and both the Roman and the English Church despair.
“Naseby” gives a fine idea of the bigotry and hate of Cromwell’s men for all the pomp and glamour of King Charles’ court and church.