Hated as they were by the Scots, by the Lords, by the city of London, the apparent junction of Charles with their enemies destroyed their growing hopes in the Commons, where the prospects of a speedy peace on Presbyterian terms at once swelled the majority of their opponents. The two Houses laid their conditions of peace before the King without a dream of resistance from one who seemed to have placed himself at their mercy. They required for the Parliament the command of the army and fleet for twenty years; the exclusion of all "Malignants," or royalists who had taken part in the war, from civil and military office; the abolition of Episcopacy; and the.establishment of a Presbyterian Church. Of toleration or liberty of conscience they said not a word. The Scots pressed these terms on the King "with tears;" his friends, and even the Queen, urged their acceptance. But the aim of Charles was simply delay. Time and the dissensions of his enemies, as he believed, were fighting for him. " I am not without hope," he wrote coolly, "that I shall be able to draw either the Presbyterians or the Independents to side with me for extirpating one another, so that I shall be really King again." His refusal of the terms offered by the Houses was a crushing defeat for the Presbyterians. "What will become of us," asked one of them, "now that the King has rejected our proposals? " "What would have become of us," retorted an Independent, "had he accepted them?" The vigour of Holies and the Conservative leaders in the Parliament rallied however to a bolder effort.
The King's game lay in balancing the army against the Parliament; and while the Scotch army lay at Newcastle the Houses could not insist on dismissing their own. It was only a withdrawal of the Scots from England and their transfer of the King's person into the hands of the Houses that would enable them to free themselves from the pressure of their own soldiers by disbanding the New Model. Hopeless of success with the King, and unable to bring him into Scotland in face of the refusal of the General Assembly to receive a sovereign who would not swear to the Covenant, the Scottish army accepted, £400,000 in discharge of its claims, handed Charles over to a committee of the Houses, and marched back over the Border. Masters of the King, the Presbyterian leaders at once moved boldly to their attack on the New Model and the Sectaries. They voted that the army should be disbanded, and that a new army should be raised for the suppression of the Irish rebellion with Presbyterian officers at its head. It was in vain that the men protested against being severed from " officers that we love," and that the Council of Officers strove to gain time by pressing on the Parliament the danger of mutiny.
Holies and his fellow-leaders were resolute, and their ecclesiastical legislation showed the end at which their resolution aimed. Direct enforcement of conformity was impossible till the New Model was disbanded; but the Parliament pressed on in the work of providing the machinery for enforcing it as soon as the army was gone. Vote after vote ordered the setting up of Presbyteries throughout the country, and the first-fruits of these efforts were seen in the Presbyterian organization of London, and in the first meeting of its Synod at St. Paul's. Even the officers on Fairfax's staff were ordered to take the Covenant.
All hung however on the disbanding of the New Model, and the New Model showed no will to disband itself. Its attitude can only fairly be judged by remembering what many of the conquerors of Naseby really were. They were soldiers of a different class and of a different temper from the soldiers of any other army that the world has seen. They were for the most part young farmers and tradesmen of the lower sort, maintaining themselves, for the pay was twelve months in arrear, mainly at their own cost. The horsemen in many regiments had been specially picked as "honest," or religious men; and whatever enthusiasm or fanaticism they may have shown, their very enemies acknowledged the order and piety of their camp. They looked on themselves not as swordsmen, to be caught up and flung away at the will of a paymaster, but as men who had left farm and merchandise at a direct call from God. A great work had been given them to do, and the call bound them till it was done. Kingcraft, as Charles was hoping, might yet restore tyranny to the throne.
A more immediate danger threatened that liberty of conscience which was to them "the ground of the quarrel, and for which so many of their friends' lives had been lost, and so much of their own blood had been spilt" They would wait before disbanding till these liberties were secured, and if need came they would again act to secure them. But their resolve sprang from no pride in the brute force of the sword they wielded. On the contrary, as they pleaded passionately at the bar of the Commons, "on becoming soldiers we have not ceased to be citizens." Their aims and proposals throughout were purely those of citizens, and of citizens who were ready the moment their aim was won to return peacefully to their homes. Thought and discussion had turned the army into a vast Parliament, a Parliament which regarded itself as representative of " godly" men in as high a degree as the Parliament at Westminster, and which must have become every day more conscious of its superiority in political capacity to its rival.
Ireton, the moving spirit of the New Model, had no equal as a statesman in St. Stephen's: nor is it possible to compare the large and far-sighted proposals of the army with the blind and narrow policy of the two Houses. Whatever we may think of the means by which the New Model sought its aims, we must in justice remember that, so far as those aims went, the New Model was in the right. For the last two hundred years England has been doing little more than carrying out in a slow and tentative way the scheme of political and religious reform which the army propounded at the close of the Civil War. It was not till the rejection of the officers' proposals had left little hope of conciliation that the army acted, but its action was quick and decisive. It set aside for all political purposes the Council of Officers, and elected a new Council of Agitators or Agents, two members being named by each regiment, which summoned a general meeting of the army at Triploe Heath, where the proposals of pay and disbanding made by the Parliament were rejected with cries of "Justice." While the army was gathering, in fact, the Agitators had taken a step which put submission out of the question.