There is no room in this little book to follow all the sieges and battles of the war, or even all those in which Oliver took part. He did not long remain a captain, but was soon made a colonel. He was a great soldier, and his movements were rapid. We find him at Cambridge, Norwich, Lowestoft, Lynn, back again at Cambridge, then marching into Huntingdonshire to quell the "malignants" there, searching even in the house of his old uncle, who was still a Royalist, for war stores.
Next he is at Peterborough, stabling his horses in the cathedral nave, for was he not doing God's work, and might not His house give shelter to His servants? Then on to Stamford, on the borders of Northampton, Rutland, and Lincolnshire. Into Lincolnshire itself, now a very stronghold of the Royalists, at Grantham and Gainsborough we find him. Three days after a victorious fight at the last-named place, he is back again in Huntingdon, working to raise more men and money. "Out instantly, all of you!" he writes. "Raise your bands: send them to Huntingdon; get up what volunteers you can; hasten your horse. You must act lively! Neglect no means!" Then northward again he goes to Boston, impetuous as Prince Robber, yet cool and calm, striking or staying his hand when need be. Next he is at Horncastle, and at Winceby, a few miles off, with other Parliamentarians, routs the Royalists utterly. So little by little Lincolnshire was won for the Parliament.
But if Lincolnshire and the eastern counties—Cambridge, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Huntingdon—stood for the Parliament, in Yorkshire and the west the King held his own.
The town of Bristol had fallen to him, and Gloucester had been with difficulty saved. Indeed, when the year 1643 closed, it seemed as if the King had had the best of the war. Here, there, everywhere, through all the country the fires of battle blazed. Towns were taken and retaken, now held for the King, now for the Parliament. Amid the rain of winter, under the sunshine of early spring, in the standing corn of autumn, battles were fought. The people grew weary of a war which dragged on month after month and seemed no nearer an end.
The Scots beyond the border watched the fight sway this way and that. The English Parliament had now much need of help. So these two ancient enemies, Englishmen and Scotsmen, swore together a Solemn League and Covenant. They bound themselves to be all of one church, the Presbyterian Church, and bishops were to be no more. They swore to preserve the laws of the land and the liberties of the people. Then in January 1644 a Scots army, under Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, came marching across the border, over the frozen Tweed, to the aid of their English brethren.
As the Scots advanced, the tide of war set northward, till it closed around the city of York, where the Royalists lay besieged.
Where the Ouse—not the Great Ouse which Cromwell knew so well, but the Yorkshire Ouse—begins to be navigable, where the three divisions of Yorkshire called the Ridings join, on the direct road to Scotland, in the centre of the great plain of York lies the northern capital, as it may be named.
York was a great city even in the days of the Romans, being the seat of government when London was but a trading port. Here Severus died, and Constantine. Here Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor. In Saxon times York became a centre of learning and piety. Here Edwin, King of Northumbria, was baptized on Easter Day, 627, and founded the church which stood where the great Minster now stands. York is the seat of one of the two archbishoprics of England, and the Minster might be said to be the heart of Yorkshire.
Yorkshire is the largest county in England, and has also more people in it than any other county. Yet it is really all the basin of one great river—the Ouse. The great plain of York runs right through the centre, from north to south. On either side are highlands, the Pennine range on the west, the Yorkshire and Cleveland moors and the Yorkshire Wolds on the east. On the slopes of the Pennines, where the pasture is good, there are many sheep farms. Because of the wool and because of the water-power coming from the streams of the Pennine slopes, people built cloth mills there. Thus many manufacturing towns have sprung up. Other towns have grown because of the coal and iron fields, Sheffield having become famous all the world over for its steel goods. And the trade of all these Yorkshire towns passing through Hull makes it, as you know, great too.
The plain of York is rich and fertile, and there much wheat is grown, and all about are scattered prosperous little agricultural towns. Yet York itself has never become great in trade. It is the ecclesiastical capital, and, with its old walls and grand Minster, seems to be a link between the busy present and the grey old past.