The Origins & Causes of the English Civil War
We English like to think of ourselves as gentlemen and ladies a nation that knows how to queue, eat properly and converse politely. And yet in 1642 we went to war with ourselves. Pitting brother against brother and father against son, the English civil war is a blot on our history. Indeed, there was barely an English ‘gentleman’ who was not touched by the war.
Yet how did it start? Was it simply a power struggle between king and Parliament? Were the festering wounds left by the Tudor religious roller coaster to blame? Or was it all about the money?
Divine right – the God given right of an anointed monarch to rule unhindered – was established firmly in the reign of James I (1603-25). He asserted his political legitimacy by decreeing that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority not the will of his people, the aristocracy or any other estate of the realm, including Parliament. Under this definition any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict the powers of the monarch goes against the will of God. The concept of a God given right to rule was not born in this period however writings as far back as AD 600 infer that the English in their varied Anglo-Saxon states accepted those in power had God’s blessing.
This blessing should create an infallible leader – and there is the rub. Surely if you have been given power to rule by God, you should demonstrate an ability to wield this responsibility with a degree of success? By 1642 Charles I found himself nearly bankrupt, surrounded by blatant corruption and nepotism and desperate to hold onto the thin veil that masked his religious uncertainty. He was by no means an infallible leader, a fact that was glaringly obvious to both Parliament and the people of England.
Parliament had no tangible power at this point in English history. They were a collection of aristocrats who met at the King’s pleasure to offer advice and to help him collect taxes. This alone gave them some influence, as the king needed their seal of approval to legitimately set taxes in motion. In times of financial difficulty that meant the King had to listen to Parliament. Stretched thinly through the lavish lifestyles and expensive wars of the Tudor and Stuart period, the Crown was struggling. Coupled with his desire to extend his high Anglican (read here thinly disguised Catholic) policies and practices to Scotland, Charles I needed the financial support of Parliament. When this support was withheld, Charles saw it as an infringement on his Divine Right and as such, he dismissed Parliament in March 1629. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled England without a Parliament, are referred to as the ‘personal rule’. Ruling without Parliament was not unprecedented but without access to Parliament’s financial pulling power, Charles’s ability to acquire funds was limited.
Above: Parliament in the time of King Charles I
Charles’s personal rule reads like a ‘how to annoy your countrymen for dummies’. His introduction of a permanent Ship Tax was the most offensive policy to many. Ship Tax was an established tax that was paid by counties with a sea border in times of war. It was to be used to strengthen the Navy and so these counties would be protected by the money they paid in tax in theory, it was a fair tax against which they could not argue.
Charles’s decision to extend a year-round Ship Tax to all counties in England provided around £150,000 to £200,000 annually between 1634 and 1638.. The resultant backlash and popular opposition however proved that there was growing support for a check on the power of the King.
This support did not just come from the general tax paying population but also from the Puritanical forces within Protestant England. After Mary I, all subsequent English monarchs have been overtly Protestant. This stabilization of the religious roller coaster calmed the fears of many in Tudor times who believed if a civil war was to be fought in England it would be fought along religious lines.
While outwardly a Protestant, Charles I was married to a staunch Catholic, Henrietta Maria of France. She heard Roman Catholic mass every day in her own private chapel and frequently took her children, the heirs to the English throne, to mass. Furthermore, Charles’ support for his friend Archbishop William Laud’s reforms to the English Church were seen by many as a move backwards to the popery of Catholicism. The re-introduction of stained glass windows and finery within churches was the last straw for many Puritans and Calvinists.
Above: Archbishop William Laud
To prosecute those who opposed his reforms, Laud used the two most powerful courts in the land, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber. The courts became feared for their censorship of opposing religious views and were unpopular among the propertied classes for inflicting degrading punishments on gentlemen. For example, in 1637 William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick were pilloried, whipped, mutilated by cropping and imprisoned indefinitely for publishing anti-episcopal pamphlets.
Charles’s continued support for these types of policies continued to pile on support for those that were looking to put a limit on his power.
By October 1640, Charles’ unpopular religious policies and attempts to extend his power north had resulted in a war with the Scots. This was a disaster for Charles who had neither the money nor the men to fight a war. He rode north to lead the battle himself, suffering a crushing defeat that left Newcastle upon Tyne and Durham occupied by Scottish forces.
Public demands for a Parliament were growing and Charles realised that whatever his next step was to be, it would require a financial backbone. After the conclusion of the humiliating Treaty of Ripon that let the Scots remain in Newcastle and Durham whilst being paid £850 a day for the privilege, Charles summoned Parliament. Being called upon to help King and country instilled a sense of purpose and power into this new Parliament. They now presented an alternative power in the country to the King. The two sides in the English Civil war had been established.
The slide to war becomes more pronounced from this stage onwards. That is not to say it was inevitable, or that the subsequent removal and execution of Charles I was even a notion in the heads of those who opposed him. However, the balance of power had begun to shift. Parliament wasted no time arresting and putting on trial the Kings closest advisers, including Archbishop Laud and Lord Strafford.
In May 1641 Charles conceded an unprecedented act, which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without Parliament’s consent. Thus emboldened, Parliament now abolished Ship Tax and the courts of The Star Chamber and The High Commission.
Over the next year Parliament began to introduce increased emboldened demands, and by June 1642 these were too much for Charles to bear. His bullish response in barging into the House of Commons and attempting to arrest five MPs lost him the last remnants of support among undecided MPs. The sides were crystallized and the battle lines were drawn. Charles I raised his standard on 22nd August 1642 in Nottingham: the Civil War had begun.
Above: King Charles preparing before the Battle of Edgehill
So the origins of the English Civil War are complex and intertwined. England had managed to escape the Reformation relatively unscathed, avoiding much of the heavy fighting that raged in Europe as Catholic and Protestant forces battled in The Thirty Year War. However, the scars of the Reformation were still present beneath the surface and Charles did little to avert public fears about his intentions for the religious future of England.
Money had also been an issue from the outset, especially as the royal coffers had been emptied during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. These issues were exacerbated by Charles’s mismanagement of the public coffers and through introducing new and ‘unfair’ taxes he simply added to the already growing anti-Crown sentiment up and down the country.
These two points demonstrate the fact that Charles believed in his Divine Right, a right to rule unchallenged. Through the study of money, religion and power at this time it is clear that one factor is woven through them all and must be noted as a major cause of the English Civil War that is the attitude and ineptitude of Charles I himself, perhaps the antithesis of an infallible monarch.
English Civil War
English history influenced the thinking of American colonials, so that Americans in the 1700’s repeated the same arguments that Englishmen used against King Charles I and his use of taxation and an army in the 1600’s.
English politics and religious regulation made life hard for Protestants (especially those outside the Church of England who wanted less pomp in the church), and for those who wanted more freedom from arbitrary rule by the King. Before the English Civil War of the 1640’s, Englishpersons left England to avoid English politics and religious regulation.
New England was so far away that communications between England and New England commonly took six months. Furthermore, the colonies initially were small and weak. So until about 1750, the King and Parliament took little notice of the colonies and left them alone to struggle as best they could by themselves.
It is important to understand the English Civil War that brought an end to the reign of Charles I, if one is to truly understand the feelings that drove families to New England in the 1630’s.
Charles I (1600-1649) matured into a strong-willed Stuart monarch and an advocate of the divine right of kings. Charles was forced into conflict with Parliament that led to civil wars, first with Scotland in 1637, then with England (in 1642-46 and again in 1648), ending with his death by execution.
The most relevant aspect of his character, which hugely influenced contemporary events, was Charles’ religiosity he was a supporter of high Anglican worship which encouraged ritual and decorum. His marriage to Henrietta Maria of France, a Roman Catholic, added to his unpopularity.
Charles dissolved Parliament three times between 1625 and 1629. (The Winthrop fleet started their sailings to New England at this time, in 1630. ) Charles ruled without summoning Parliament for 11 years. Unrest in Scotland – because Charles attempted to force a new prayer book on the country – put an end to his personal rule without Parliament. . Funds to quash the rebellion were limited and Charles was forced to call first the Short Parliament then the Long Parliament. Conflict in the House led to a foolish decision, prompted by Henrietta, to have five members arrested and civil war erupted.
In 1642 Charles took an army to attack, at Nottingham, an army assembled by Parliament. The king’s supporters, known as the Cavaliers, came from the ranks of both peasants and nobility. The Parliamentary forces were generally the civil militia forces of towns, which militia was generally formed from the emerging middle classes, especially Puritan Protestants who viewed Charles as pushing the country into becoming a Catholic country. The Puritans, because they did not use the wigs of court, and used plain hairstyles, were known as the Roundheads. This force of Roundheads was molded by Oliver Cromwell, into what Cromwell styled as the New Model Army. After about three years of battles between Cavaliers and the New Model Army, Cromwell soundly defeated the Cavaliers at Naseby in 1645. A year later, Charles surrendered a year later to the Scottish forces. In 1648 Parliament put Charles on trial for treason. He was found guilty by one vote (68 to 67) and his execution was ordered for 1649. Thus series of war between the forces of the King and the forces of Parliament became known as the Glorious Revolution of England.
The same arguments that Englishmen used against Charles I in the Glorious Revolution were used the next century by Americans against the Crown and Parliament.
To read about how the Civil Wars of England fit into the other major wars of the 17th and 18th century click here.
The Civil War:
- A few months later, a civil war broke out between the Roundheads (supporters of Parliament and led by Oliver Cromwell) and the Cavaliers (supporters of the king).
- Most of the big cities, including London and the south-east, supported Parliament. Wales, and the north and west of the country were in favour of the king.
- The first major battle took place on 23 October, 1642, at Edgehill, near Birmingham.
- For the next few years, Charles and his ‘Royalists’ won most of their battles.
- They even trapped many ‘Parliamentarians’ inside their own homes until they surrendered, otherwise known as sieges.
- The Roundheads responded by creating a New Model Army of soldiers in 1645. They were well-equipped and wore new red coats, making them the first ever army to wear a standard uniform.
- Their men also often wore lobster pot helmets to help protect their head, neck and face.
- Armies in the civil war had four kinds of soldiers in them:
- The pikemen carried long wooden spears called pikes.
- The musketeers would fire heavy guns called muskets, which were powered by gunpowder.
- The cavalry were mounted on horses and carried swords and two pistols, which could fire one shot each.
- The dragoons were also mounted on horseback and were armed with guns called carbines.
- The fighting continued until 1646 when the king gave himself up to the Scots.
- Fearing the conflict would continue though, Oliver Cromwell decided to put Charles I on trial for treason.
- He was eventually executed on 30 January, 1649, as a ‘Tyrant, traitor, murderer and a public enemy’.
- The war was very bloody, with an estimated 250,000 deaths.
- England was then ruled by Parliament until 1653 when Oliver Cromwell, commander of the Cavaliers, became the Lord Protector of England.
- He held this post until his death in 1658 and his son, Richard Cromwell, briefly took over.
- Shortly afterwards, in 1660 when Richard Cromwell abdicated, the son of King Charles I then became King Charles II.
- This return of a king to the throne was known as The Restoration.
- He worked in cooperation with a nominated Parliament to govern the land and so ruled a much happier, democratic society.
- He was even nicknamed ‘the Merry Monarch’ because he changed many of the laws Cromwell made, which gave people more freedom to enjoy themselves.
English Civil War Worksheets
This bundle includes 11 ready-to-use English Civil War worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about The English Civil War which pitted the armies of King Charles I against the armies of Parliament for control of England.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- English Civil War Facts
- King Charles I
- The War
- New Model Army
- Oliver Cromwell
- Effects of the War
- End of the War
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The English Civil War
The English Civil War erupted in 1642. In January 1942, King Charles I tried to arrest five of his chief detractors in the Houses of Parliament. The men escaped and the king’s actions horrified much of the English public. Slowly the country began to splinter into two rival sides: the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, or (as they pejoratively called each other), the ‘Roundheads’ and the ‘Cavaliers’. The start of the war is normally dated the 22 August 1642: the day that Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham.
Like most wars in the 17th century, the English Civil War was more of a series of intermittent battles and skirmishes than one continuous war - 17th century armies lacked mobility and needed lots of time to collect even very basic equipment. The weather was also important in determining whether armies could fight. Harsh winters often cut up roads and rendered them beyond use. This could scupper an army’s progress.
It is difficult to give an exact breakdown of either side’s support, but it tended to be that the nobility and landowners supported Charles I, as did the Anglicans. Meanwhile those who lived in towns and cities tended to support Parliament. This is only a broad-brush generalisation: naturally there were people within each of these categories actually supported the other side.
The three most significant battles during the English Civil War took place at Edgehill in 1642, Marston Moor in 1644 and Naseby in 1645.
The battle of Edgehill ended indecisively with both sides claiming victory. Over the next 12 months, there was series of smaller battles but neither side could land a fatal blow on its opposition.
In 1644, the English Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters heavily defeated Charles I at the Battle of Marston Moor. Charles lost control of the north of England.
In June 1645, Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell led the New Model Army to a decisive victory at the Battle of Naseby. This dealt a fatal blow to the king’s army.
In 1646, Charles decided that he would surrender to the instead of to Parliament. The Scottish -Parliamentary alliance was a fragile one, and Charles hoped it might collapse. This actually backfired and in January 1647 the Scots took Charles to Parliament and sold him to them for £400,000. In November 1647, he escaped to Hampton Court. He was re-imprisoned by the Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight at Carisbrooke Castle, but was able to negotiate with the Scots from captivity. They came to a deal: if the Scots restored Charles to the throne, he would impose Presbyterianism in England for three years. In May 1648 the Second Civil War broke out and the Scots invaded. However, in August they were resounding defeated at the Battle of Preston. This put an end to their plans to restore the monarchy. Negotiations between Charles and Parliament began in September.
Oliver Cromwell and his army henchman were vehemently opposed to negotiating with Charles. However, in December 1648, Parliament voted to continue negotiations with the king. The army decided to get their way by force. Pride’s Purge took place from 6 to 7 December. Any MPs who disagreed with the military were imprisoned or intimidated so that they would not attend Parliament. The army could then force through an act of parliament to try the king for treason in January.
In January 1649 Charles went on trial at Westminster Hall it was ruled that he had “traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people therein represented”. He was found guilty of treason and - in the only ever case of a British monarch being put to death - he was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649.
The Civil War cross-dressers: the women who swapped dresses for breeches
King Charles I forbade it. The Bible declared it an abomination. But that didn’t stop women joining the armies of king and parliament dressed in men’s clothes. Mark Stoyle tells the stories of the people who swapped dresses for breeches in the Civil War
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Published: July 11, 2019 at 7:00 am
Soldiers’ lovers: the unmasking of a “poore loving wench”
During the 1640s England was torn apart by a terrible Civil War fought between the reigning monarch, Charles I, and his enemies in parliament. The conflict saw thousands of lives turned upside down, and one of the most intriguing consequences of this social dislocation was that a number of women ventured into the field alongside the soldiers of king and parliament while cross-dressed as men – despite the fact that transvestitism is explicitly condemned in the Bible.
Some women donned masculine attire not to fight but in order to accompany their male partners while they were away at war. This was true of a certain Nan Ball, “a poore loving wench” who was “taken in man’s cloathes” in the royalist camp near York in 1642. Ball had, it appears, been waiting upon “her beloved”, an unnamed lieutenant in the king’s service.
Once her cover had been blown as the result of “a foolish accident” – the nature of which is, sadly, left unspecified – Nan was brought before the Earl of Lindsey, who was then governing the king’s camp in the temporary absence of Charles. Lindsey questioned the lieutenant and his cross-dressed consort, and – having satisfied himself that the lovers had indeed conspired in a sartorial deception – punished the lieutenant by dismissing him from his command. As for Ball, she was to be exposed to “publique shame”, either by being whipped or placed in the pillory, two punishments that were frequently handed out to “moral offenders”.
In the end, more merciful counsels prevailed, and a “letter was procured for… [Ball’s] reprieve”. As a result, rather than being forced to undergo harsh punishment, this ‘outed’ female cross-dresser was banished from the royalist camp and, in the words of the sympathetic writer who recorded the story, “turn’d [away] to seek her fortune”.
Prostitution: dressing as men for sex or convenience?
How many women dressed as men during the Civil War? We’ll never know for sure. But what is certain is that, by the summer of 1643, Charles I had become so concerned about the phenomenon that, in a draft proclamation designed to regulate the conduct of the forces under his command, he included a directive specifically forbidding that practice. “Because the confounding of habites appertaining to both sexes… is a thing which nature and religion forbid and our soule abhors,” the king wrote, “[and] yet the prostitute impudency of some women have thus conversed in our army, therefore let no women presume to counterfeit her sex by wearing man’s apparall, under payne of the severest punishment.”
Charles’s claim that it was a sense of “prostitute impudency” that led some of the women in his camp to adopt male “habites”, suggests the king regarded female cross-dressing primarily as a cover for the sale of sex. It’s true that a few of the female camp-followers who accompanied the royalist army may indeed have swapped their dresses for breeches in order to make it easier for them to ply their trade as prostitutes. However, it seems probable that most of the women who adopted male attire would have done so for reasons of simple convenience: it made it easier for them to stride alongside their menfolk as they marched across the country on campaign.
Travellers: sniffing out secrets on parliament’s highways
Not all of the women who cross-dressed during the Civil War did so as a means of following loved ones into the rival armies. Others clearly donned male garb in the hope of passing unnoticed through a countryside in which law and order had all but broken down, and in which travel had become extremely hazardous for lone women.
There are several instances of such travellers being unmasked on the highway during the conflict. In 1644, a group of parliamentarian soldiers manning a “court of guard”, or military checkpoint, in Hyde Park, apprehended a young woman of 16 or 17 from Gloucestershire as she attempted to pass through their guard while dressed as a boy. The unfortunate traveller was suspected of being a royalist spy bent on sniffing out secrets in London.
As to her fate, we can’t be sure, although she may well have been despatched to the nearest prison, as those detected in the act of cross-dressing during the 1640s frequently were.
Female warriors: cross-dressing in the name of God
Perhaps the most unusual and fascinating of all the women who dressed as men during the Civil War were those who “counterfeited their sex” because they wanted to serve as soldiers themselves.
There is good evidence to show that a handful of exceptional women fought in the rival armies. A “woman corporall” was among the royalist prisoners captured when parliamentarian forces took Shelford Church in Nottinghamshire in 1645. And long after the conflict was over, a Cheshire man of royalist sympathies expressed his distaste for the fact that one of his neighbours, a certain Katherine Dale, had allegedly served as a parliamentarian trooper during the Civil Wars. “If Kate Dale… had ridden as a trooper for the king,” he remarked, sniffily, “it had bin gallant in her… but rideinge for the Rebells… it was a most base thing.”
If these two women did, indeed, serve as soldiers, they would surely have done so in male attire. And the same was evidently true of the parliamentarian trooper at Evesham, who in 1645 aroused the suspicions of a local tailor by ordering him to make “a petticoat… for my sister, which is just of my stature every way”.
The tailor was convinced that the petticoat was intended for the soldier himself, rather than his ‘sister’, and so informed the authorities. According to the contemporary pamphleteer who related the story, “this young man was sent for… and being examined… [admitted] he was indeed a female, and… that herself and three more sufficient men’s daughters came out of Shropshire when the king’s forces commanded there, and to get away, came disguised in that manner, and resolved to serve in the warre for the cause of God”.
More evidence of female fighters dressing in men’s clothes can be found in the financial accounts of the chamberlains of Worcester. Among those accounts is a note of a payment made in 1649 “to a messenger to carry a letter… concerning the woman that cam[e] disguised in mans app[ar]ell in the name of a souldier”. Presumably Worcester’s local governors were appealing to someone in higher authority for advice as to how to deal with the unsettling male impersonator who had recently been discovered in their midst.
How many other cross-dressed women like these may have served, unrecognised, in the armies of king and parliament? Sadly, we will never know.
Mark Stoyle is professor of early modern history at the University of Southampton. You can read his essay ‘Give Mee a Souldier’s Coat: Female Cross-Dressing During the English Civil War’ in the journal History (volume 103, issue 358).
REVIEW – two new histories of the English Civil Wars
There are numerous histories of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (to give the ‘English’ Civil Wars their more-accurate title), as such, any new book, unless based on ground-breaking research, needs something unique to attract readers. So these two new books both take a less-typical approach – but fears of this being at the cost of substance are unfounded, since both authors are military historians of renown.
The idea of tracing the history of a war through maps is not new – there have been several recent books taking this approach – but it is more than 20 years since this was last applied to the Civil Wars.
Author Nick Lipscombe is probably best known for his Peninsular War Atlas and Concise History, but he admits that mapping the Civil Wars was altogether a different prospect, as the 150 years separating the two conflicts witnessed major advances in military mapping.
During the 1640s, military map-making in Britain was in its infancy, so the author has few contemporary maps and plans to refer to. He supplements these with the findings from battlefield archaeology, complemented by contributions from the Battlefields Trust (and Scottish Battlefields Trust) and the National Civil War Centre.
After a thorough chronology, the book sets out the many and varied pressures that led to the wars. Then the armies, the weapons, and the tactics are outlined, including a discussion about the foreign influences on infantry tactics: the Dutch, Swedish, and German ‘systems’ are clearly explained.
The book then follows the wars chronologically, and then geographically (allowing for some overlap with dates, as the fighting took place simultaneously in different parts of the country).
Although the book does not properly reflect the dominance of sieges during the wars (one contemporary recorded that there were ‘20 sieges for one battle’), it is better than some other studies in this regard.
The maps are generally clear, with exceptions usually resulting from the confused nature of the conflict rather than any fault with the book itself.
Overall, coverage is very thorough, and an undoubted highlight are the maps of the various battles and sieges in Ireland. But this makes it even more surprising no map of Scotland during the Interregnum is included: during the 1650s, the Protectorate government constructed a number of citadels to police the country, and it was from Scotland at the beginning of 1660 that General Monck set in motion the chain of events that would result in the restoration of the monarchy.
It is hard not to be overawed by the sheer size of this book – 368 pages and no fewer than 155 maps (it weighs in at more than two kilograms), though the lack of other illustrations is curious, and this probably prevents what is a very good book becoming a ‘groundbreaking’ one. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to disappoint any reader, and is an important addition to the corpus of work on the Civil Wars.
An operations manual
Stephen Bull’s English Civil War (Operations Manual) takes an altogether different approach, presenting an analysis of how the war was fought. This is not a military history of battles and campaigns, but focuses on the organisation and structure of the opposing forces, the commanders and their armies, and the usage and deployment of weapons.
During the years leading up to the Civil Wars, England was described as ‘peaceful and ignorant of the military arts’, so preparation for war was from a low base, making the book’s analysis of recruitment, command, and strategy even more important. This leads on to the actual fighting ‘arms’: infantry, cavalry, and dragoons, their weapons, their tactics. Artillery is discussed with admirable insight – unsurprisingly, given that the author is a leading authority on the artillery of the period.
The analysis of the Battle of Edgehill, the war’s first major encounter, sews together the preceding background chapters. This is the only battle the book discusses in detail, due – at least in part – to the recent thorough investigations of it by both conflict archaeologists and battlefield historians.
In looking at the war’s sieges, the author has developed a basic formula: the summons, the encirclement, and the storm. The author applies this to several well-known sieges, and while it is not a formula that can be applied universally – and nor does it fit completely with Monck’s ‘seven ways to win Castles, strong Holds, and fortified Towns’ – it does result in a thoroughly interesting discussion, making this an excellent introduction to English Civil War siege warfare.
This is followed by a section on the archaeology of the Civil Wars: urban fortification is discussed first, followed by an analysis of archaeological investigations into several castle sieges. The choice of Philiphaugh, in the Scottish Borders, as the example of a conflict archaeological investigation of a Civil War battlefield is a surprising yet enthralling one.
The text is supported by a number of photographs, maps and illustrations, and the author interprets the contemporary illustrations to good effect. There are no footnotes or endnotes (which I suspect is due to the Haynes manual format), but there is a comprehensive list of further reading.
This is an excellent accompaniment to the numerous chronological histories of the wars, explaining the more technical aspects of the fighting with great clarity, making this often-complex information accessible to a wide audience. The chapters on archaeology, artillery, and sieges are particularly recommended, particularly in light of the author’s commendable efforts to achieve a better balance between battles and sieges.
These are contrasting books: one is a lavish chronological history, told through 155 maps and plans, but with hardly any other illustrations the other, a technical study illuminated by 200 illustrations and photographs, yet very few maps and plans. They approach the subject from different angles and, as a result, they complement one another rather well. They are each the product of extensive research, but at the same time written in an accessible style.
While I doubt that either book will be the first choice of anyone unfamiliar with the subject (the cost of the atlas might put some often), there is enough in both to appeal to those who are relatively new to the period, as well as those with more ‘established’ libraries. Both make important contributions to the study of the Civil Wars.
Review by David Flintham
This is an article from the February/March 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.
Prelude to the English Civil WarCharles I's marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, shortly after his accession to the throne in 1625, was extremely unacceptable to the Puritans who were influential within Parliament, which became even more uncompromising than it had been to his father, James I of England (James VI of Scotland). Charles inherited his father's belief in the "Divine Right of Kings", and resented any interference in his chosen way of doing things. Other important issues, such as Charles' abuse of The Court of Star Chamber and the structure of the Anglican Church were also major sources of political controversy. The leaders of the parliamentary party cast around for ways to limit the powers of the king. The Parliament of 1625 granted him the right to collect customs duties only for a year and not, as was usual, for his entire reign. The Parliament of 1626 also impeached the king's favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Furious, Charles then dissolved it.
Because the king was unable to raise money without Parliament, a new one was assembled in 1628. The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right in 1628, and Charles accepted it as a concession to get his subsidy. Amongst other things the Petition referred to the Magna Carta and said that a citizen should have: (a) freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, (b) freedom from non-parliamentary taxation, (c) freedom from the enforced billeting of troops, and (d) freedom from martial law.
Charles then attempted to rule without a Parliament, resorting to expedients such as "ship money" (a tax levied originally on seaports but then extended by Charles to the entire country) to raise revenue. Ship money, as a levy for the Royal Navy was for the defence of the realm and therefore within the scope of the royal prerogative. Reprisals against Sir John Eliot, one of the prime movers behind the Petition of Right, and the prosecution of William Prynne and John Hampden (who were fined after losing their case 7-5 for refusing to pay ship money, taking a stand against the legality of the tax) aroused widespread indignation. Charles's chief advisers, Archbishop William Laud and Thomas Wentworth, later to become 1st Earl of Strafford, were widely disliked.
Prior to the Civil War, Charles also attempted to wage an expensive series of wars against the Scots, the Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640. These resulted from an attempt to enforce Anglican-style reforms on the Scottish church. The Scots however rejected these reforms and sought to remove the control that the bishops had over the church. Charles was insufficiently funded for such an expedition, and was forced to seek money from Parliament in 1640. Parliament took this appeal for money as an opportunity to discuss grievances against the Crown moreover, they were opposed to the military option. Charles took exception to this lese majesté and dismissed the Parliament the name "the Short Parliament" was derived from this summary dismissal. Without Parliament's support, Charles attacked Scotland again and was comprehensively defeated the Scots, seizing the moment, took Northumberland and Durham.
In desperate straits, Charles was obliged to summon Parliament again in November of 1640 this was the "Long Parliament". None of the issues raised in the Short Parliament had been addressed, and again Parliament took the opportunity to raise them, refusing to be dismissed. On January 4, 1642, Charles attempted to arrest 5 members of the Parliament (John Hampden, John Pym, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, and William Strode) on a charge of treason this attempt failed, however, as they had been tipped off and gone into hiding prior to the arrival of the king's troops. When the troops marched into Parliament the officer in charge demanded of the the Speaker where the five were. The Speaker replied that he 'had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear save as this house [the Commons] directs me.' In other words, the Speaker was a servant of Parliament, rather than of the King.
The Causes of the English Civil War
The English Civil War has many causes but the personality of Charles I must be counted as one of the major reasons. Few people could have predicted that the civil war, that started in 1642, would have ended with the public execution of Charles. His most famous opponent in this war was Oliver Cromwell – one of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles.
No king had ever been executed in England and the execution of Charles was not greeted with joy. How did the English Civil War break out?
As with many wars, there are long and short term causes.
The status of the monarchy had started to decline under the reign of James I. He was known as the “wisest fool in Christendom”. James was a firm believer in the “divine right of kings”. This was a belief that God had made someone a king and as God could not be wrong, neither could anyone appointed by him to rule a nation. James expected Parliament to do as he wanted he did not expect it to argue with any of his decisions.
However, Parliament had one major advantage over James – they had money and he was continually short of it. Parliament and James clashed over custom duties. This was one source of James income but Parliament told him that he could not collect it without their permission. In 1611, James suspended Parliament and it did not meet for another 10 years. James used his friends to run the country and they were rewarded with titles. This caused great offence to those Members of Parliament who believed that they had the right to run the country.
In 1621, James re-called Parliament to discuss the future marriage of his son, Charles, to a Spanish princess. Parliament was outraged. If such a marriage occurred, would the children from it be brought up as Catholics? Spain was still not considered a friendly nation to England and many still remembered 1588 and the Spanish Armada. The marriage never took place but the damaged relationship between king and Parliament was never mended by the time James died in 1625.
Charles had a very different personality compared to James. Charles was arrogant, conceited and a strong believer in the divine rights of kings. He had witnessed the damaged relationship between his father and Parliament, and considered that Parliament was entirely at fault. He found it difficult to believe that a king could be wrong. His conceit and arrogance were eventually to lead to his execution.
From 1625 to 1629, Charles argued with parliament over most issues, but money and religion were the most common causes of arguments.
In 1629, Charles copied his father. He refused to let Parliament meet. Members of Parliament arrived at Westminster to find that the doors had been locked with large chains and padlocks. They were locked out for eleven years – a period they called the Eleven Years Tyranny.
Charles ruled by using the Court of Star Chamber. To raise money for the king, the Court heavily fined those brought before it. Rich men were persuaded to buy titles. If they refused to do so, they were fined the same sum of money it would have cost for a title anyway!
In 1635 Charles ordered that everyone in the country should pay Ship Money. This was historically a tax paid by coastal towns and villages to pay for the upkeep of the navy. The logic was that coastal areas most benefited from the navy’s protection. Charles decided that everyone in the kingdom benefited from the navy’s protection and that everyone should pay.
In one sense, Charles was correct, but such was the relationship between him and the powerful men of the kingdom, that this issue caused a huge argument between both sides. One of the more powerful men in the nation was John Hampden. He had been a Member of Parliament. He refused to pay the new tax as Parliament had not agreed to it. At this time Parliament was also not sitting as Charles had locked the MP’s out. Hampden was put on trial and found guilty. However, he had become a hero for standing up to the king. There is no record of any Ship Money being extensively collected in the areas Charles had wanted it extended to.
Charles also clashed with the Scots. He ordered that they should use a new prayer book for their church services. This angered the Scots so much that they invaded England in 1639. As Charles was short of money to fight the Scots, he had to recall Parliament in 1640 as only they had the necessary money needed to fight a war and the required authority to collect extra money.
In return for the money and as a display of their power, Parliament called for the execution of “Black Tom Tyrant” – the Earl of Strafford, one of the top advisors of Charles. After a trial, Strafford was executed in 1641. Parliament also demanded that Charles get rid of the Court of Star Chamber.
By 1642, relations between Parliament and Charles had become very bad. Charles had to do as Parliament wished as they had the ability to raise the money that Charles needed. However, as a firm believer in the “divine right of kings”, such a relationship was unacceptable to Charles.
In 1642, he went to Parliament with 300 soldiers to arrest his five biggest critics. Someone close to the king had already tipped off Parliament that these men were about to be arrested and they had already fled to the safety of the city of London where they could easily hide from the king. However, Charles had shown his true side. Members of Parliament represented the people. Here was Charles attempting to arrest five Members of Parliament simply because they dared to criticise him. If Charles was prepared to arrest five Members of Parliament, how many others were not safe? Even Charles realised that things had broken down between him and Parliament. Only six days after trying to arrest the five Members of Parliament, Charles left London to head for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. A civil war could not be avoided.
In return for their help, Parliament made several demands:
- Laud and Strafford would be removed as advisors and put on trial.
- Ship Money would be declared illegal
- Charles would agree that Parliament could never be dismissed without Parliament’s assent. If Parliament was dismissed, no more than three years would elapse before a new Parliament was called.
The Earl of Strafford - "Black Tom Tyrant" - was one of Charles I’s top advisors. He was tried and executed in 1641.
By 1642, relations between Parliament and Charles had further deteriorated. The demands of Parliament were inimical to Charles, who believed strongly in the divine right of kings.
In 1642, Charles arrived in Westminster with 300 soldiers and attempted to arrest five of his most virulent critics. Someone close to the king tipped off Parliament and the men fled before Charles arrived. However, Charles I had now shown his true side. MPs represented the people, and yet here was Charles attempting to arrest five MPs simply for daring to criticise him. How many other MPs were not safe? Charles realised that his relationship with Parliament was now irrevocably broken. Six days after the attempted arrest debacle, Charles left London for Oxford to raise an army. Civil war was now on its way.