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Summary Article: Civil War, English
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Conflict between King Charles I and the Royalists (also called Cavaliers) on one side and the Parliamentarians (also called Roundheads) on the other. Their differences centred initially on the king's unconstitutional acts, but later became a struggle over the relative powers of crown and Parliament. Hostilities began in 1642 and a series of Royalist defeats (at Marston Moor in 1644, and then at Naseby in 1645) culminated in Charles's capture in 1647, and execution in 1649. The war continued until the final defeat of Royalist forces at Worcester in 1651. Oliver Cromwell then became Protector (ruler) from 1653 until his death in 1658.

CausesCharles I became the king of Great Britain and Ireland in 1625, and quickly became involved in a number of disputes with Parliament. These led to the latter's dissolution in 1629, after which Charles ruled absolutely for 11 years, the Eleven Years' Tyranny. By 1639, people had many reasons to be angry with Charles: his belief in the divine right of kings; his spending – Charles was an art collector, and lavished money on his court and his favourites; his creation of monopolies as a form of patronage; his levies of ship money for the support of the navy; and his use of the Star Chamber court to suppress the Puritans and make judgements in his favour. His officials and associates were also unpopular. Strafford, Charles's advisor and lord deputy in Ireland, was using the army to enforce royal rule ruthlessly in Ireland (see Ireland: history 1603–1782, Protestant settlement and the rule of Strafford). The Puritans felt threatened by Charles's deputy, Archbishop William Laud, who had brought Arminianism into the Church of England, new ideas that emphasized links with the pre-Reformation church. Charles's Catholic wife Henrietta Maria was also disliked, as she encouraged him to aid Catholics and make himself an absolute ruler.

In 1639, however, war was declared with Scotland, the first of the Bishops' Wars over Charles's attempts to impose royal control over the church in Scotland. In 1640, Charles called the Short Parliament in order to raise funds. His request for war taxes was refused, and the Parliament was quickly dissolved, but, after defeat in Scotland in the second Bishops' War (1640), Charles called the Long Parliament of 1640. The members of Parliament (MPs) were determined (in the words of the leader John Pym) ‘to make their country happy by removing all grievances’. The Long Parliament imprisoned Laud, declared extra-parliamentary taxation illegal, and voted that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own assent. In November 1641 Parliament presented the Grand Remonstrance – a list of complaints. In January 1642 Charles tried to arrest the five parliamentary leaders who, he said, had ‘traitorously tried to take away the King's royal power’. When this failed, the king went north to Nottingham, where he declared war against Parliament on 22 August 1642.

For many years, historians believed that the English Civil War grew out of a potent mixture of constitutional, religious, and social forces that had developed over centuries. Magna Carta (1215) had claimed that all men should be free, and Parliament's power had been increasing since Tudor times. At the same time, Puritan hostility to the bishops, and long-term social factors such as inflation and enclosure added to the stresses between the king and the people. As the country moved towards democracy and freedom, it seemed inevitable that king and Parliament would clash. This is the traditional view of the causes of the Civil War.

Revisionist historians, however, do not think the Civil War was an inevitable development of history; they believe it grew suddenly out of the events of November 1641. They point out that, by winter 1641, Charles had agreed to everything that most people wanted. In December 1640 he abolished ship money, and during 1641 agreed to call a Parliament every three years, not to collect taxes without Parliament's consent, and to abolish the Star Chamber. Meanwhile Laud was imprisoned (December 1640) and Strafford executed (12 May 1641). By November 1641 the problems of government seemed to have been solved. However, in October 1641 the Catholic Great Rebellion broke out in Ireland. To defeat it the King needed an army but the Parliamentary leaders, worried that he might use it against them, suggested that Parliament ought to control the army. It was a direct attack on the king's power, and led to the attempt to arrest the five MPs.

Choosing sides Most lords and earls supported Charles, as did most Catholics. Among the gentry, also, most young people fought for Charles – fighting for the king seemed exciting and romantic. Many people who disagreed with Charles also fought for him, simply out of loyalty – most famously, Edmund Verney.

Most of the people who fought for Parliament were Puritans. They were people who believed in Parliamentary government and did not trust Charles to keep his promises. Most lawyers, merchants, and trades people (many of whom were Puritans) also fought for Parliament.

Some people tried to remain neutral; the majority of the population did not want to fight at all. Individuals made up their own minds. The war split friends and families. Edmund Verney fought for the king, his son Ralph joined the Parliamentarians.

Events of the war The Royalist and Parliamentarian armies first met at the Battle of Edgehill, south Warwickshire, in October 1642, which had no conclusive outcome. After this initial battle, a series of victories followed for both sides. The king had the initial advantage, for his troops (as Cromwell pointed out after Edgehill) were ‘gentlemen's sons and persons of quality’. Charles tried to take London in 1642 – when he was halted at Turnham Green (November 1642) – and again in 1643, when he mounted a three-pronged attack from the north, from Cornwall, and from his headquarters at Oxford. Although, the Royalists took control of most of Yorkshire after the Battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643, the plan failed. As the war went on, the tide turned in Parliament's favour. The navy supported Parliament, which gave Parliament control of the ports. Parliament's strength was in the southeast, the richest part of the country. Also, in November 1643, Parliament formed an alliance with the Scots, the Solemn League and Covenant. Most of all, Cromwell had formed a new army of well-trained, passionately Puritan ‘ironsides’. His new army won the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. In April 1645 Parliament reorganized all of its forces into the New Model Army. The army was nationally organized and regularly paid. It was commanded by Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax, and won a resounding victory at the Battle of Naseby, near Leicester, which brought the first stage of the war to an end in June 1645.

The second Civil War The Royalist army was disbanded in 1646 and in May 1646 King Charles took refuge with the Scottish army based in the north of England, but was handed over as a prisoner to the Parliamentarians in January 1647. During 1647, however, he was kidnapped by the Roundhead army (which was increasingly at odds with Parliament). He escaped, but was recaptured and held at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. From there he concluded a secret pact with the Scots, agreeing to establish Presbyterianism in return for their support. The second Civil War began in March 1648 with a series of uprisings by Royalist supporters in Wales, Kent, and Essex, but these were put down by Cromwell and Fairfax. The Scots invaded the north of England later in the year, but were defeated by Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Preston in August 1648. King Charles was tried and executed for treason on 30 January 1649.

Commonwealth and Protectorate England became a republic and formally declared to be a Commonwealth. The war continued with Cromwell's Irish campaign (see also Ireland: history 1603 to 1782, Cromwell in Ireland) and campaigns in Scotland (see Scotland: history 1603 to 1746, the Commonwealth period). It only ended when a revived Royalist army under Charles II was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. Charles II then fled abroad.

At first England was still ruled by the Rump of the Long Parliament, but in 1653 Cromwell dismissed the Long Parliament. The time that followed was a period of experiment in government. Cromwell tried a ‘Parliament of the Saints’, the Barebones Parliament, in July–December 1653. Later in December 1653, Cromwell accepted the office of Lord Protector, beginning the period known as the Protectorate (1653–59), but he still could not form a stable government. Other groups such as the Levellers and the Diggers demanded even more radical forms of government. Cromwell dissolved the Parliament of 1654–55 and for some time ruled the country as a military dictator, after which his last Parliament, in 1656, offered him the throne. Cromwell declined, however, thinking that this would be opposed by the army. Two years after Cromwell's death an amnesty was declared for Charles II, and his proclamation on 8 May 1660 marked the Restoration of the monarchy.


The Causes of the English Civil War

Causes of the English Civil War, 1642

The World Turned Upside Down: Civil War and Revolution


Rump Parliament: Abolition of monarchy in England

Rump Parliament: Abolition of monarchy in England and Ireland

Rump Parliament: Charles I: trial

Rump Parliament: Abolition of the oaths of allegiance, obedience and supremacy


Battle of Naseby 1645

English Civil War


Battle of Marston Moor

Cromwell, Oliver

Seige of Oxford

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