English Civil War(s), 1642-1651

The English Civil War was largely caused by the actions of one man: the then king, Charles I. He believed in the 'divine right of kings', which stated that the kings of England were chosen by God. Naturally, Parliament had some misgivings about this, and were unwilling to support him in his schemes. Charles I, arrogant as he was, decided he didn't need Parliament to rule the country, and promptly spent 11 years ruling the country on his own.

During this time, he instituted some monumentally stupid laws, which really got up the noses of both the common man and Parliament. The most notorious of these was the 'Ship Money', a tax paid by everyone, not just those who lived in coastal areas, to finance the navy. Parliament claimed that this was the reason they were so angry with Charles, but the real reason was that he had started taxing wealthy landowners (them) heavily.

These two actions turned most of the country against him, especially a lot of his soldiers, who weren't in a full-time army. Therefore, when he decided that all Scots should adhere to the Catholic Church rather than their own Presbyterian churches, he was left so powerless to enforce it that the Scots invaded. Charles, realising he was in a spot of bother, decided to call Parliament and ask them to force the soldiers to fight. They, rather predictably, refused, and executed Charles' two best advisors, promptly plunging the nation into civil war.

The factions were: The Roundheads, led by Parliament, and controlling the East and South, London, the navy and ports, supported by the Puritans. These guardians of justice pitted themselves against the Cavaliers, led by the King and controlling Oxford, the North and West, and supported by most of the Establishment (including the Catholic Church.)

Parliament, although the underdogs at the start, had access to more resources than the king, aided by their control of the ports.

The Battle of Edgehill, October 23 1642

Charles marched on London, hoping to capitalise on his early advantage and gain a quick victory. Parliament forces met him at Edgehill. Charles did not acheive the resounding victory he had hoped for, but he did manage to continue his advance as far as Turnham Green, where he was forced to retreat.

Charles went back to Oxford and established his headquarters there, which would remain for the rest of the war.

1643 was a year in which many battles were fought all over the country.

Royalist forces won at Adwalton Moor to take Yorkshire, and also at Lansdown and Roundway Down to let a frightfully posh chap called Prince Rupert take Bristol.

The Parliamentarians won at Winceby in October to take Lincoln, but had a bad year in general.

Also in this year, there was a large battle at Newbury, which was useful for nothing else other than to convince both forces of the need for more allies.

Parliament made something up called 'The solemn League and Covenant' which basically stated that the Scots could worship God however they wanted if they engaged in a bloody war. (They did.)

Charles managed to distract the Irish with Guinness and negotiate a cease-fire which freed up the rest of his loyal troops to fight with him.

Parliament obviously managed to negotiate a better deal than Charles could, as the battles in 1644 were much more balanced. Parliament won, with Scottish help, at Marston Moor to take York. They lost in the South-West at Lostwithiel, and withdrew from Newbury, it being clear that nobody would ever win there.

In 1645, The 'New Model Army' was formed by Fairfax. These were a group of paid soldiers who were highly trained, and although outnumbered by the Cavaliers, they were able to win, with Cromwell's leadership, at the battles of Naseby and Langport, crushing Charles' forces.

In 1646, Charles did the sensible thing and disbanded his forces. He surrendered Oxford and fled North to try and hide among the Scots. This marked the end of the first war.

Charles was ransomed by Parliament, and they held him at Holmby House, a rather posh prison, even for a monarch, while they drew up proposals. They also began disbanding their army.

The army, of course, weren't too happy about this, since a lot of them still had pay cheques to come through. They kidnapped Charles in an attempt to gain some bargaining power. However, military intelligence being the oxymoron it is, Charles was able to escape to the Isle of Wight.

The army, now severely pissed, marched to London in 1647 and debated their own proposals at Putney.

Charles, the sly old fox, took advantage of this to negotiate another deal with the Scots, leading to the second war.

There were a series of Royalist rebellions and invasions by those fickle Scots. However, the new standing army quashed them all. This new rebellion placed doubt in the minds of parliament as to whether Charles should be allowed to rule again. Those who still thought that monarchy was a good idea tried to negotiate with him again.

The army, by this time, had had enough. They marched on Parliament and conducted 'Pride's Purge', arresting 45 MPs and keeping 146 out of Parliament. The remaining 75 were let in only to do the army's bidding.

This 'rump' Parliament was ordered to set up a high court in order to try Charles I for treason. The trial (Jan 1649) found Charles guilty as charged, and he was beheaded on January the 30th.

It is interesting to note that Charles wore two vests on the day of his execution, because he did not want to shiver from the cold and have people think he was trembling from fear.

Our hero, Oliver Cromwell, quashed some revolts in Ireland and Scotland in the years 1649-1650 and restored some semblance of peace.

Meanwhile, some other posh guy called Charles decided it was his turn to be king, and got himself crowned in Scotland. He marched on England with those slimy Scots and got beaten at Dunbar by Cromwell. However, this didn't stop him marching further south, and he was finally engaged at Worcester on Sep 3 1651, from where he fled abroad.

This let Parliament create the Commonwealth, instituting Cromwell as Lord Protector of England, a role in which he was almost as tyrannical as a king, leading many to wonder what the point of all the brouhaha was. But that's another node for another day.

As an amendment to the above, most British historians would disagree that Charles I was solely or even mostly to blame. The events leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War were too complex to be able to label one side as the guilty party. Charles was wrong to try and govern without Parliament but at the time, many people believed in divine right so he cannot be blamed too heavily for being arrogant. Curiously enough, his real mistake was trying to be a "good" Protestant prince by waging a war against the Catholic continental countries. Had he not fought with Spain, he would have not needed the "Ship money". Although this tax did irritate many people, it did not turn Englishmen against him. The period where he ruled without Parliament was relatively stable. It was only when he idiotically tried to force the Scottish Church to adhere to his new religious plans that things came to a head. He needed Parliament to raise money and an army to combat the Scots. Parliament would do so but they wanted something in return.

Parliament was partly to blame over the outbreak of war due to the plot of some MPs to have the Earl of Strafford killed. They falsely accused him of treason by manipulating what he said in a private discussion, overheard by someone. In the end Charles was reluctant to order his execution but felt that he had to. Parliament also brought the country close to conflict by their rather bigoted opinion of themselves. They did represent a wider electorate but only a minority of richer people. There was no form of democracy like today. Also the king had the moral as well as legal right to do as he pleased. Though there were many MPs who believed in having more people eligible to vote, the majority of MPs were simply in a plot to increase their own power.

On the war as a whole, the country did not side against Charles. There was a relatively even split in terms of who supported who. Families more often split over this matter than they agreed in supporting one side. Even a significant number of MPs sided with Charles. As a whole, the commoners and other ordinary people sided with neither the Cavaliers nor the Roundheads. There is a famous example of this. In a house, there would be a large chest pushed up against a wall. On one side there was an inscription saying "God save the King" and on the other "God save Parliament". Depending on which side came into the house, the chest would be quickly turned to face the appropriate side. Charles lost because of Parliament's New model army rather than because a majority of people sided against him.

After the war, Charles was brought to trial. Of course this is one of the most ridiculous things of all. Technically, there is no way the monarch can be brought to trial, especially for treason. In Britain, treason is normally committed against the Crown. Even today, no one can be sure whether the procedure was legal. More importantly, even after all the suffering caused by the war, most people did not want Charles killed. There is also the strong possibility that a large part (not necessarily a majority) of the judges were pressed to sign the death warrant. Throughout time, English judges have acted on the law and precedent. Why they should therefore have broken with tradition so easily begs questioning.

In the aftermath, Cromwell set up his own dictatorship. He actually had more absolute power than Charles because he had kicked out a majority of Parliament's MPs. In the end those left rubber-stamped all of his decisions. He wisely ended the war against Spain and increased the prosperity of the nation. However this was outweighed by his religious extremism. In a time where religion really mattered to people, this was rather cruel. Only a minority of Englishmen were Puritan but the majority were forced to adhere to not only their religious scripture but also a lifestyle devoid of pleasure and fun. Drinking, singing and acting were widely banned. You could even be punished for celebrating Christmas in the wrong way. Worst was what he did to the Catholics in Ireland. No quarter was given and they were massacred wherever Cromwell's soldiers went. This is the root of the current problems in Northern Ireland.

When Charles II came back to England, it was to the salute of a Parliamentary general, Lord Fairfax, and the behest of Parliament, rather than at the head of an army. Cromwell had appointed his son his successor. He was given the name "Tumbledown Dick" because he was so disinterested and useless at running the nation. Charles II was a good king. He did his best not to have Parliamentarians hounded by Royalists seeking revenge. He brought stability to the land, also bringing relative happiness by ending the repressive policies of Cromwell in the entertainment sphere. After the suffering and then boredom of the years before, he felt it was important for the nation to have fun again. He also recognised that Parliament needed to have more power, though the monarch remained effective head of the country for many years to come. Finally, the nation was able to settle down.

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