While John Bunyan was growing up quietly at Elstow great political, social and religious movements and events were causing an increasing stir in the country as a whole. The impact of these matters had effect on Bedfordshire and the little village in which John lived. But he was not so concerned with them at first as with learning his father’s skill as a brazier, at the forge attached to the cottage in the fields at Harrowden. This apprenticeship gave him both an intimate knowledge of the craft, and all the necessary skills to earn his own living in due course. It was also affecting his physical development, for he was growing up a tall, broad-shouldered lad, with brawny arms, whose abundant auburn hair added to his striking appearance.
His happy home life was suddenly shattered in the summer of 1644, when there swept over the village, a strange epidemic with which the physicians were quite unable to cope. In those days the rules of health and cleanliness were little understood, or if they were understood, were little regarded. Probably the illness was a form of influenza, but before the end of June his mother Margaret lay in her grave, and John wandered disconsolate about the lanes. A month later his sorrow was further increased when his beloved sister Margaret, fourteen years of age, his playmate as long as he could remember, was buried in the adjoining plot in Elstow churchyard. It was a numbing experience for John but a worse blow was to follow. For within a month his father Thomas married for the third time, in indecent haste to John’s mind. If his father and mother are shadowy figures to us, even more so is Thomas’s third wife, for we do not even know her name. No doubt Thomas had good reason to secure a wife to look after himself and his home, especially since he was often away working at his trade, but to John it seemed like disloyalty to his mother.
We can imagine John flying for sympathy to his Aunt Rose married to Edward Bunyan, Thomas’s brother, who seems to have kept some sort of ale house; and it is not unlikely that they suggested his enlistment in the Parliamentary army, with its convenient opportunity to leave home. It may well have been also that the loss of his mother and sister at an impressionable age, and the quick re-marriage of his father, impelled John to the wild and wilful ways of the next few years, which he lived to describe so vividly and to repent so bitterly. The preaching, also, of Christopher Hall, Vicar of Elstow, a Parliamentarian whose son was baptized “Oliver”, may have had something to do with his entering the army.
The first Civil War, 1642-46, though having momentous effects on the country as a whole, had not so far in 1644 greatly affected Bedfordshire. Some historians have endeavoured to maintain that the Civil War was a class war, but there were noblemen and gentry, yeomen and peasants on both sides. Dr Maurice Ashley has conclusively repudiated the “class struggle” notion in his valuable book, The English Civil War. The complex and intricate causes of the war were both political and religious. There were grievances about arbitrary taxation without consent of Parliament, arguments about property rights, demands for a larger role for Parliament, and complaints about the organisation and restrictive practices of the Established Church, and about the evil counsellors of the king.
King Charles I came to the throne in 1625 at the age of twenty-five. His father, James I had been a shrewd politician, but Charles was reserved, proud and unyielding, and fully convinced of his “divine right” to govern. He had the misfortune to inherit as his chief minister the Duke of Buckingham, who was arrogant, unscrupulous and unpopular. His unrealistic foreign policy involved England in war with Spain. For this war the king demanded large supplies of money from the House of Commons, which granted a limited subsidy of £140,000, but refused more until various grievances had been remedied. Concern was also felt in many quarters, not only Puritan, because Charles had just married a Roman Catholic French princess. The nation had not forgotten the Spanish Armada and the attempt to conquer England and make her a Catholic country once more.
In Parliament Sir John Eliot, a Cornish squire, took over the leadership of the House, and attempted to impeach Buckingham over the complete failure of the attack on Spain the previous year. The king ordered Eliot’s arrest and dissolved the House. Charles declared to Parliament that it was his right alone to summon Parliaments, and that if they opposed his will he would do without them. He then endeavoured to obtain forced loans from landowners but he never had sufficient money for the war. So, when in 1628 he called a Third Parliament, the Commons led by Pym, Eliot and Hampden, once more refused money supplies until grievances such as forced loans, compulsory billeting, arbitrary imprisonment, and the imposition of martial law, had been dealt with. A “Petition of Right” presented to the king in 1628, the year of John Bunyan’s birth, setting forth these grievances, was grudgingly accepted.
In 1629 Parliament again criticized illegal taxation (tonnage and poundage), and the growth of Popery and Arminianism. Charles in anger prorogued the Commons, which was not to meet again for eleven years. The king made peace with Spain and France, reduced his revenues, the yield from the Customs rose to £400,000 a year, money was borrowed from the City of London, and so the Government managed to make ends meet. In religion Charles had favoured the Arminians, appointing bishops and higher clergy of that persuasion. He also issued The Book of Sports which so angered the Puritans with regard to the misuse of Sunday, approved the wearing of the vestments, and the placing of the Holy Table against the chancel end in the position of an altar. Those who did not comply were brought before the Court of Star Chamber and punished severely.
Two other immediate causes of the Civil War were the question of “Ship money”, and the Scottish resistance to Church of England Prayer Book usage. Ship money had been levied in past days to provide ships for the defence of British shores, but gathered only from coastal ports. Now, however, Charles decided to levy the tax on all parts of the country, and a storm of protest arose. John Hampden, a great patriot and leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, refused to pay, and although at his trial in 1638 seven of the twelve judges found for the king, it was plain that the whole nation was in sympathy with his opposition. In Scotland, Charles’s attempt to force the Prayer Book system of religion on an unwilling people met with determined opposition. There was a near-riot in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh in 1638. Ministers, nobles and gentry, poured into Edinburgh to organize national resistance, and re-stated and signed a National Covenant expressing solidarity to maintain the Scottish Church establishment and way of life against English interference. The Kirk of Scotland had existed since 1567 when Mary, Queen of Scots had abdicated, and it held strongly to its own Calvinist Confession of Faith, its organisation of presbyteries and synods, and to the election of its own ministers.
Events now gathered momentum. Charles set about gathering an army at York with which to confront the Scots and force on them his policies. But shortage of money and lack of enthusiasm amongst his English subjects, paralysed his efforts. Across the border General Leslie and the Earl of Montrose gathered 20,000 men to march on England. In April 1640 Charles was forced to summon what was known as the “Short Parliament”, but it declared as before that no money would be forthcoming until security was had for freedom of worship, property, and the liberties of Parliament. After only three weeks the king dissolved Parliament, The Earl of Strafford became Commander-inchief of the army. But the Scots army of the Covenant under Montrose crossed the Tyne and routed the English cavalry. The king was obliged to accept the Treaty of Ripon by which he agreed to allow the Scottish army to remain in Northumberland and Durham, and to pay its expenses. Charles had now no alternative but to call another Parliament to Westminster. This met on 3rd November, 1640 and its proceedings led directly to the Civil War.
Most of the members were country gentlemen, many related to one another with a fair sprinkling of lawyers and merchants. Nine-tenths of them were critical of the king’s counsellors and their proceedings. There was an air of restlessness and uncertainty about them. Charles made an opening speech in which he declared that the Scots were rebels, and that Parliament must provide money to buy them off English soil. Pym summed up the grievances of the nation against the government, and complained of attacks on Parliamentary privileges, illegal taxation, and innovations in religion. Strafford was impeached, sent to the Tower and, in spite of promises of protection by the king, was executed. The Court of Star Chamber and the Court of High Commission were abolished. Laud was sent to the Tower. Ship money was declared illegal. Pym introduced a “Grand Remonstrance” in which all the grievances of the people against the Government were listed as a kind of manifesto to the nation. It was passed at midnight on November 22nd by 159 votes to 148. Oliver Cromwell declared that had it not been passed he and other members would have left England for ever.
The voting—although little more than half the members were present—showed that Parliament was almost equally divided. Angry at the turn events had taken Charles led a small armed party to the House of Commons in order to arrest Pym and four other members, together with Lord Mandeville, the future Earl of Manchester and Parliamentary commander, for treason. The accused members were safely hidden by friends and Charles’ plan was thwarted. Civil war now became almost inevitable, and both sides began to organise their supporters and to collect arms and funds. The heart of the question was, “Where did actual sovereign government lie—with the king and his cronies, or with a legally appointed Parliament elected by the nation?” The eventual issue was the liberties of the people and a constitutional monarchy, though this was far in the future. Charles raised his standard at Nottingham on the 22nd August 1640. Parliament appointed the Earl of Essex to command the Parliamentary army, and the Earl of Warwick to take command of the Navy. The Civil War had begun.
The Parliamentary party in the Civil War was, very largely, the Puritan party. Richard Baxter is explicit on this: “The generality of people through the land who were then called Puritans, precisioners, religious persons … adhered to the Parliament. And on the other side the gentry who were not so precise and strict against gaming, or plays, or drinking, nor troubled themselves so much about the matter of God and the world to come. … And all the sober men that I was acquainted with, who were against the Parliament, were wont to say, ‘The king hath the better cause, but the Parliament hath the better men.’
John Bunyan and his father discussed these matters over the forge as news filtered down to them from London, or was gleaned in public houses, or in the homes of the wealthy where they were not infrequently called to work. Thomas remained a convinced Royalist, and even named a son Charles in May 1645. But Bedfordshire was strongly Parliamentarian in sympathy, though there were some Royalists in the county. With the shires of Northampton, Leicester, Derby, Rutland, Nottingham, Huntingdon and Buckingham, Bedfordshire belonged to the Midland Association of counties supporting the Parliament. A few skirmishes took place in the neighbourhood. Sir Lewis Dyve of Bromham Hall, a leading Bedfordshire royalist, with a small number of men was attacked by troops under Sir Samuel Luke, M.P. for Bedford in July 1642, and escaped only by swimming the Ouse. The next year, when John Hampden had been killed at Chaigrove Field, and John Pym lay dying in London, his life work accomplished, Sir Lewis returned to have his revenge. Coming to Amphill with 400 men he surprised the Bedfordshire Committee appointed by Parliament, and took several of the leading country gentry prisoners to Oxford, headquarters of the King. Pressing on to Bedford he took prisoner Sir John Norwich and other Parliamentary officers, seized 300 horses, and plundered the town and district. Shortly after this Colonel Montague with a small Parliamentary force entered Bedford pretending to be Royalists and took away horses and money intended for the king.
Bunyan would note some of these comings and goings, and see parties of conscripts pressed into the Parliament’s forces marching along the roads. In 1643, Sir Samuel Luke, now Governor of the Parliamentary Garrison at Newport Pagnell, Bucks, issued warrants requiring all able-bodied men between sixteen and sixty years of age to report at Leighton Buzzard for military duty and the defence of Parliament and its cause. They had to bring arms and weapons with them. The response was poor, for men were naturally loath to leave their fields at harvest time, and abandon their jobs and families for uncertain and dangerous tasks, however much they believed in the cause. In the autumn of 1644 Sir Samuel’s recruiting officers came to Elstow to gather Bedfordshire’s proportion of men required for the defence of the Newport garrison. John Bunyan, hearing of this, took his chance to leave home.
He was a tall, vigorous youth, and although under age—being only fifteen-and-a-half years old—he looked older than he was. He was adept at lying, as he says himself, and it was easy to convince the recruiting officers that he was sixteen. Newport Pagnell was a strategic point on the road between London and Yorkshire, which had been captured by the Earl of Essex and was now a strongly fortified garrison town. It was twelve miles from Bedford to Newport Pagnell and the company of impressed men marching along the Roman Akerman Street did not find it hard going. What John’s thoughts were we cannot say, but probably he was much relieved to have left home and excited at the unknown possibilities before him. Sir Samuel Luke was appointed Governor, and the fortress remained in Parliamentary hands for the remainder of the war. So, as a mere lad, although certainly “able-bodied”, John Bunyan found himself a soldier (or centinel) in the New Model Army commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, “Black Tom” as his troops loved to call him.
Early biographers of Bunyan were concerned with the possibility that John served in the Royalist ranks in the Civil War. J. A. Froude gave it as his opinion that Bunyan was a Royalist because his father was, and because John Gifford, later Minister at Bedford, had been a Royalist major. The reasoning is absurd. John Bunyan was not in sympathy with his father at the time he entered the army; Bedfordshire was a Parliamentary county on whom levies of conscripts were made; while John did not meet Gifford until years after the Civil War. Had Bunyan been on the Royalists’ side it is certain that his imprisonment would have been vastly different if not avoided altogether.
But the side on which Bunyan fought has been put beyond all doubt by the discovery at the Record Office of the Muster Rolls of the Newport Garrison from 1644 to 1647. On November 30, 1644 John Bunyan was a private or as it was then termed a “centinel” in the company commanded by Colonel Richard Cockayne. On March 22nd 1645 he appears in the list of Major Boulton’s company and he was regularly mustered in the major’s company up to May 27th 1645. His presence at Newport Pagnell on May 27th 1645 renders impossible the theory that he was present at the siege of Leicester. And Bunyan was still a member of one of the companies making up the force at the Newport garrison as late as June 17th 1647. Colonel Richard Cockayne under whom Bunyan served was a Bedfordshire man of some note, who may well have known the Bunyan family. John Bunyan served in the Parliamentary ranks, not for a few months as so many writers have affirmed, but for about three years. This is a considerable period in the most impressionable part of a young man’s life.
The officers under whom John and his fellow recruits served were often bearded, relatively well-dressed, with high-plumed hats, armoured breast-plates, knee breeches, and high leather boots. When the New Model Army was complete in 1645, Cromwell’s officers were supplied with red coats, and uniforms became part of the common soldier’s equipment. John’s own uniform consisted of a plain brown doublet and coat or “cassock”, short breeches, two shirts, stockings of “good Welsh cotton”, and shoes tied with laces. He also wore a Monmouth cap, knitted, blocked, and tasselled. His weapon was a short musket—presuming that he was a musketeer, though it is possible that he was a pikeman. The bullets were quite heavy and with twelve charges of powder, were fastened in a leather bandolier worn over his shoulder and fitted with small pouches. The infantryman was paid at the rate of eightpence a day, the cavalry trooper three times as much. If John was a pikeman he would have worn helmet, breast- and back plates, and metal thigh guards. The pike was sixteen feet in length, but it was quite common for the soldiers to reduce the length to make it less unwieldy. The pikemen were chosen from the strongest and tallest men in the unit, and it is on account of this that some suppose John to have been a pikeman. At the same time, at fifteen and a half years he was not likely to be very tall.
At Newport Pagnell, Sir Samuel Luke the Governor, an ardent Presbyterian, a valiant energetic officer and a man of sense and courage, lived in a house on the Green, but used as his military headquarters the “Saracen’s Head”. John was probably billeted in a house, or he may have lived in a tent, at least in the summer. If billeted with a family he would doubtless have made friends there, and this may account for certain circumstances to be discussed later. Much of his time would be occupied with drill. The musket (if Bunyan was a musketeer and not a pikeman and there were two musketeers to every pikeman) was cumbersome, and if not carefully handled was almost as dangerous to the owner as to the enemy. It had an over-all length of about five feet, and firing a 1 ¼ ounce bullet was effective at a hundred yards. Because of the length and weight of the musket it required a rest which was spiked at one end for fixing in the ground, and forked at the other end to take the musket’s weight. The battle formation for the foot soldiers was usually six or four deep, each rank firing and then falling back to the rear to re-load. Pike drill was basically more simple than musket drill, and depended for its effectiveness on numbers, to produce the “hedgehog” front to charging horse, and to provide a tightly knit mass of pike and armour for “push of pike.” A small sword called a hanger was also carried by the foot soldiers.
Discipline in the New Model Army was strict and well supervised. To Oliver Cromwell it was a new kind of recruitment—”to raise such men as had the fear of God before them, and made some conscience of what they did”. With so many religious men in its ranks, Presbyterians, Independents and others, the officers and leaders of the regiments and companies were chosen for their moral character and principles as well as for their fighting abilities. The officers were concerned with the moral and religious lives of their men, as well as with their effectiveness in battle. In May 1643 Oliver wrote of his men, “No man swears but he pays his twelve-pence: if he is in drink he is set in the sticks, or worse; if one calls the other ‘Roundhead’ he is cashiered; in so much that the countries where they come leap for joy of them.” Offences against persons and property were severely punished. The actual military discipline was also severe. In April 1643 Cromwell had two troopers who had deserted whipped in the market place of Huntingdon, and then “turned off” as renegades. One wonders how often John Bunyan was fined for swearing!
Vera Brittain whose book, In the Steps of John Bunyan is both a comprehensive and percipient account of John, thinks that too many biographers “present a lusty young tinker and reprobate as the incarnation of moral purity”. She points out that although in Grace Abounding paragraph 315, he definitely asserted that he was not guilty of adultery and fornication, yet in paragraphs 8 and 9 he clearly states his acquaintance with carnal sin. “Until I came to the state of marriage,” he says, “I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness.” She suggests also that there were brothels in Newport Pagnell. This is extremely unlikely, as such would not have been tolerated by the Parliamentary authorities, though they were all too common where the Royalists were in power. In a later chapter we shall examine Bunyan’s opinion of himself in his famous autobiography. But the severe discipline in the Parliamentary army would argue against his early indulgence in the lusts of the flesh. Godly officers superintended the habits of those under their command. Further, at Newport Pagnell there was constant preaching in the parish church by Independent and other preachers, and Bunyan would soon become acquainted with the main points of Puritan theology, which laid great emphasis on holiness. Serious discussions and debates were often held between those of differing views, on the doctrines of Scripture, and the best form of church government and the conduct of the State. One can imagine John Bunyan taking a curious interest in them. That these spiritual exercises did not convert him may surprise us, but until God made John’s heart ready to receive him, he was indifferent to spiritual things.
The Parliamentary authorities made an effort to provide for the spiritual welfare of their soldiers. There were chaplains to regiments. In October 1644 Sir Samuel Luke mentioned that there were no fewer than seven “able divines” in the garrison at Newport Pagnell. Two sermons were preached to the troops every Sabbath and one every Thursday, while prayers, with the reading of a chapter from the Bible, were held every morning before the placing of the guards. No soldier was allowed out of his billet after nine o’clock at night. A strongly religious atmosphere permeated the Parliamentary ranks. Fast days and Days of Humiliation were kept at intervals. Whenever possible battles were preceded by some form of religious services. After Naseby and Marston Moor the victorious Parliamentary forces sang a psalm of thanksgiving and held a solemn celebration the following Sunday. There were between seven and eight thousand men in the garrison at Newport, many, like Bunyan, young conscripts. Inevitably they unconsciously absorbed democratic opinions and the religious fervour of the army chaplains and the preaching colonels.
Each Parliamentary soldier was issued with a copy of The Souldiers Pocket Bible consisting of extracts from the Geneva Bible. It had the “imprimatur” of Edmund Calamy, an eminent Puritan, and was arranged under such headings as “A Souldier must not doe wickedly”, “A Souldier must be valiant for God’s Cause”, “A Souldier must love his enemies as they are his enemies, and hate them as they are God’s enemies.” “A Souldier must crie unto God in his heart in the very instant of battell.” The Pocket Bible, it was stated “may bee also usefull for any Christian to meditate upon, now in this miserable time of Warre.”
John would also have a copy of The Souldiers Catechisme composed for the Parliamentary army by Robert Ram, Minister of Spalding. It was “Written for the encouragement and instruction of all that have taken up Armes in this Cause of God and His people; especially the common Souldiers”. It answered in a fashion satisfactory to the Parliamentary side such questions as, “Is it not against the King that you fight in this cause?” The answer is, “No surely. Wee take up armes against the enemies of Jesus Christ, who in His Majesties name make warre against the Church and People of God.” Parliamentary propaganda was certainly not neglected.
Oliver Cromwell’s second son Captain Oliver Cromwell, aged 21, was in the garrison force at Newport Pagnell, but John Bunyan missed contact with him for in March 1644 Oliver’s son died of smallpox at Newport. He was described in a newspaper of the time as “a civil young gentleman and the joy of his father”. It is not known where he is buried or whether his father attended the funeral. But when Bunyan arrived there in the autumn he was to see the great Parliamentary commander and later Lord Protector, Oliver himself. For Oliver was at Newport Pagnell sometime before the battle of Naseby and inspected the troops and garrison defences. Standing among them as they were drawn up in rank John Bunyan saw Oliver and his staff officers, and must have been impressed by the Protector’s determined look and noble bearing. It is not impossible that John was one of those appointed to mount guard over Oliver’s quarters while he was in the town.
As to what active military service he saw in the field we know little. Small companies of soldiers, chosen by lot, were sometimes sent by the Governor on marauding expeditions to seize horses or food, or to besiege castles and manors belonging to Royalists in the neighbourhood. On one occasion John had an escape he recorded in Grace Abounding twenty years later. “When I was a soldier, I with others, were drawn Out to go to such a place to beseige it; but when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which, when I had consented, he took my place; and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel, he was shot into the head with a musket bullet, and he died.”
The use of the word “siege” in this passage, has persuaded some biographers to suppose that Bunyan was present at the siege of Leicester. But Charles I began the investment of that town on May 28th, 1645, and we know that John was at Newport Pagnell on May 27th. He could not therefore have been at Leicester. The reference in his autobiography must refer to the siege of a fortified house somewhere in the vicinity of the garrison town. It is most tantalising that this is the only reference to active service during the whole three years he was in the army. A friend of the writer served during the Second World War in the Burma campaign, ending with the rank of Colonel. He went through the whole campaign with all its horrors, disasters, and sufferings. When he left the army he was converted, and became active in Christian work just as Bunyan was to do. But of all he saw and experienced in Burma he could not be persuaded to say one single word. Perhaps the suffering and horrors were too deeply etched on his memory, or he had been forced to do things which he later saw were inconsistent with his Christian profession. Surely this was the exact condition of John Bunyan. Looking back on his army career, hearing the cries and noise of battle and siege, remembering his share in it, insignificant though it may have been, remembering comrades who had been killed or wounded—he kept it all locked up in his memory, and wrote barely a sentence of it all. This, in part, may well have contributed to his tumult of conscience in later days.
References are made in The Holy War (1682), to marches, war plans, sieges, and parleys, but all too vague to connect with any soldiering Bunyan may have done. All we can be certain of is that he acquired some general military knowledge. One possibility is likely, however, and that is that Bunyan was present at the battle of Naseby on June 14th 1645, when the Parliamentary army under Fairfax and Cromwell overwhelmed and destroyed the Royalists. It was a decisive victory since it put an end to Charles’ main field force. It is known that several regiments from Newport Pagnell were at Naseby under Fairfax, and it is not improbable that Bunyan was among them. But he gives us no word!
At Newport Pagnell John Bunyan became acquainted with three persons who, in years to come, he was to know well for they became his life-long friends. We shall consider their relationship to him in due course, but here we will just note their names and occupations.
The Rev John Gibbs was appointed Vicar of Newport Pagnell in 1646, replacing an adherent to the old ecclesiastical regime. He was the son of a cooper at Bedford and a student of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, a Puritan foundation where Cromwell had been a student. In days to come he was to give Bunyan considerable help and to be helped by him.
At Newport Pagnell also, lived Matthias Cowley, who seems to have kept a stationer’s or bookseller’s shop, and whom Bunyan got to know extremely well. It has been suggested that it was in his shop that John first read Milton’s Paradise Lost. As a soldier, Bunyan had no idea that one day he would become a celebrated author, and neither did Cowley, yet in days to come he would publish several of John’s writings.
Then there was William Dell, one of the Puritan chaplains to the garrison. He had trained for the ministry at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, foster-mother of so many Puritan divines. He was a famous preacher: when he preached in an orchard before Sir Samuel Luke’s tent, hundreds of soldiers crowded to hear him, some even climbing the trees to do so. “There hath been,” he declared, “a very sensible presence of God with us; we have seen His goings, and observed His very footsteps, for He hath dwelt among us, and marched at the head of us, step by step.” Dell was high in favour with the Parliamentary leaders, and in June 1646 officiated at the wedding of Cromwell’s daughter Bridget to General Ireton. John’s friendship with this remarkable man lay many years ahead, but they were destined to be associated in Gospel preaching in close and harmonious fellowship.
So we have but glimpses of John, soldiering at Newport, growing up robust, strong-willed, excitable, noting with his keen brain all the practical side of military practice and manoeuvres and storing up details that he was to use in The Holy War.
On June 26th, 1645, after the battle of Naseby, Sir Samuel Luke’s governorship of the garrison ended, owing to the passing by the Commons of the “Self-denying Ordinance” by which members of Parliament undertook to resign all military commands. He continued to represent Bedford for some years, but retired before the Restoration and died in 1670. John Bunyan and his fellow soldiers found themselves under a new Governor, Captain Charles D’Oyley, recommended by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Soon afterwards the garrison was reduced to 800 foot and 120 horse. During the autumn and winter of 1645-46 the soldiers had little to do, though regular drill and preaching went on. Two rivers meet at Newport Pagnell, the Ouse and the Lovat, and no doubt John who was a keen angler, joined with other men to fish the waters.
Then, on August 6th 1646, surprising news reached Newport Pagnell. Because of the decline of the king’s cause, several garrisons were to be abandoned, and the soldiers employed for service in Ireland for “the relief of Protestants.” The garrisons of Cambridge, Huntingdon, Bedford, and Newport Pagnell were thereupon relinquished, and the “Committee for Irish Affairs” of both Houses of Parliament ordered the army at Newport Pagnell to be sent to Chester. John Bunyan, by now happily adjusted to military life, was in no great hurry to return to Elstow, to his royalist father and unknown step-mother. So he volunteered for Ireland, and was put into Colonel Robert Hammond’s regiment, his company commander being Captain Charles O’Hara. Robert Hammond was a kinsman of Oliver Cromwell, soon to be appointed Governor of Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where Charles I was to be confined at the pleasure of Parliament in 1647.
John, however, was not to see the emerald isle. Hammond’s regiment, including John, duly marched to Chester in March 1647, in advance of the main body. Here John saw mountains high and foreboding such as he had never seen in the flat countryside of Bedfordshire. At Chester the regiment was recalled to army headquarters at Saffron Walden, and was soon to be moved to St Albans. At Saffron Walden the majority of soldiers refused to serve in Ireland, their objections being put to the army command by democratic representatives from each regiment. But a minority of six officers and 400 men were willing to go to Ireland. Among these was centinel John Bunyan, who under Captain O’Hara, along with the others was marched back to Newport Pagnell to await fresh orders. Thus John’s name appears on the Muster Roll of O’Hara’s company on 17th June 1647. The journey to Ireland was eventually cancelled and John’s regiment was disbanded late in July 1647. He had thus been almost three years a soldier in the Parliamentary army, had seen and learned much, and was now a tinker again. He reached the cottage at Harrowden soon after Bedford and district had become the headquarters of Fair-fax’s forces. Some 20,000 men were encamped in the surrounding area, while Fairfax, Cromwell and Ireton were in constant discussion over negotiations with the king, which unfortunately came to nothing. The king was a prisoner and militant Puritanism was in power. But John thought little of these matters. He was a civilian again, about to take up work on his own, and even more momentous for him—to get married.