English Civil War

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Maps of territory held by Royalists (red) and Parliamentarians (green) during the English Civil War (1642–1645).

The English Civil War happened in the middle 17th century. The term civil war is a war where the sides involved in the fighting are from the same country.

The term covers a period between 1642 and 1651 in which there was fighting in England[a], Scotland and Ireland, three separate countries that were ruled by the same king. The fighting that took place in each of these countries broke out at different times and for several different reasons. Some people consider all this fighting to be one big war, while others think it should be seen as several different wars that were linked. These are sometimes known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, including earlier fighting such as the Bishops' Wars in Scotland in 1639. These would be the First English Civil War (1642-46), the Second English Civil War (1648-49) and the Third English Civil War (1649-51).

At the centre, there was a struggle between King Charles I and the Parliament of England over how the country should be ruled. The King wanted to rule without Parliament telling him what to do. At first Parliament wanted to reduce the king's power, but later it decided to abolish the monarchy altogether. The King's supporters were known as the Royalists, and were nicknamed "Cavaliers". Parliament's supporters were known as the Parliamentarians, and were nicknamed "Roundheads".

The Parliamentarians won the war. Charles I was captured, put on trial and in 1649 he was executed. His son Charles II then tried to take over the country, but lost and escaped abroad. As a result, the three kingdoms spent 11 years without a king. For most of this time, they were run by Oliver Cromwell, a former Parliamentarian general. After Cromwell's death, the monarchy was restored under Charles II. However, kings were never as powerful as they had been before the war.

Causes[change | change source]

The reasons for the fighting were mostly to do with power, money and religion.

Power and money[change | change source]

In the 17th century, the king had a lot of power over England with one exception: he could only raise taxes if the English Parliament agreed to it. This was because Parliament represented the gentry (middle class), and no king could raise taxes without the help of the gentry. Scotland and Ireland also had parliaments, but with not nearly as much power. When King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne (becoming James I of England), he disliked having to work with parliament. He was more used to ruling in Scotland, where the king was far more powerful. James I also spent more money than previous kings and queens.

Both James I and his son Charles I believed in the "divine right of kings", meaning that they believed that God gave kings the right to do anything they wanted over their lands.[1] But there was a difference between the two: James I accepted that he could not get what he wanted all the time, whereas Charles I always wanted to get his own way.

After becoming king in 1625, Charles I quickly got into arguments with members of Parliament. From 1629 to 1640, he shut Parliament down and ruled without it. This was legal, as long as he did not raise taxes. He used some legal tricks to raise money without bringing back Parliament. For example, he used "ship money", a tax that had been paid by coastal towns in times of war. Charles I started charging it to all towns when there was no war. This was unpopular, but judges decided that it was legal.[2] The period from 1629 to 1640 was known as the "Eleven Years' Tyranny" by the king's enemies.

Religion[change | change source]

In the previous century, the Protestant Reformation and England's break with the Catholic Church had encouraged new ideas and struggles. In England, there was movement called the Puritans, because they wanted a "pure" religion. They believed that the Church of England was too much like the Roman Catholic Church it had broken away from.

On the other hand, Charles I tried to change Church of England services, introducing incense and bells, things associated with Catholic services. This worried many people (especially Puritans), who hated Catholicism. He also married a French princess, Henrietta Maria, who was a Catholic.

Build-up[change | change source]

In 1637, Charles I tried to introduce a new prayer book in Scotland that was very similar to the English Book of Common Prayer, without asking Scottish Parliament or the Church of Scotland.[3] Many Scots hated the prayer book, seeing it as an attempt to change the religion of their country.[4] Riots broke out in Edinburgh, and unrest spread throughout Scotland. A rebellion movement began in Scotland, which became known as the Covenanters.

In 1939, the rebellion led to the Bishops' War. The war cost so much money that the King called a new Parliament to raise taxes. But members of Parliament did not want to work with Charles, and instead focussed on complaining about the king's actions (such as ship money) during the "Eleven Years' Tyranny". Charles I shut Parliament down again, but later that year he had no choice but to call another one to raise taxes. This became known as the "Long Parliament". Over two-thirds of the elected members of the Long Parliament were opposed to the king.[5] John Pym was their leader.

The Long Parliament passed laws to stop the king from shutting it down and removed many of the king's allies. In 1641, a rebellion broke out in Ireland.[6] The rebellion was caused by Irish Catholics who were fearful of the Protestants in the Long Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters. The need to raise money to fight the rebellion strengthened Parliament. Parliament also took control of the army in 1642, to deal with the Irish Rebellion.

In January 1642, Charles I marched into Parliament with guards, to arrest five members (including Pym) who disagreed with him. The five men found out he was coming and escaped. This was a disaster for Charles.[7] No king had ever entered the main chamber of Parliament before, and they were shocked that he would do this.[8] Many people who did not mind the king became his enemies.[9]

The war[change | change source]

The King moved out of London and took the royal court to Oxford, where he had more loyal followers than in London. The first war was fought between King Charles's army and the army of Parliament. King Charles's army soldiers were called "Cavaliers", and the army of Parliament's soldiers were called "Roundheads". Parliament won the first war, and King Charles was put in prison, but he escaped and a second war broke out. Parliament won the second war also, and they put King Charles on trial because they did not want any more fighting. He was found guilty of treason and was executed in 1649. Parliament declared the Commonwealth of England. Fighting continued.

During the war, Parliament found a new leader, a man called Oliver Cromwell, who was very good at leading an army and also had ideas about how to rule the country. Not everyone liked him, but he was the strongest leader and in time he became the ruler of the whole country. Cromwell took the title of "Lord Protector" rather than King, because he did not think the country needed another king. His government was called "the Protectorate". In the meantime, King Charles I's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, had left Britain and set up his own royal court in Holland, calling himself King Charles II of England. He came back to fight another battle against the army of Parliament. His father, King Charles I, had been born in Scotland, and Scots who were loyal to the royal family were among his most important supporters. The Third Civil War (1649 - 1651) was fought between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended when Parliament won the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. Charles II had to disguise himself in order to escape.

Oliver Cromwell ruled the country until he died in 1658. Cromwell's son, Richard, took over as Lord Protector. However, he was not as tough as his father. People begged King Charles's son to come back. Charles II came back from Holland and became King again. This was the English Restoration.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. At the time, Wales was part of England.

References[change | change source]

  1. McClelland 1996, p. 224.
  2. Cust 2005, p. 194; Gregg 1981, pp. 301–302; Quintrell 1993, pp. 65–66.
  3. Cust 2005, pp. 223–224; Gregg 1981, p. 288; Sharpe 1992, pp. 783–784; Starkey 2006, p. 107.
  4. Carlton 1995, p. 195; Trevelyan 1922, pp. 186–187.
  5. Carlton 1995, p. 216; Gregg 1981, pp. 317–319.
  6. Purkiss 2007, pp. 109–113.
  7. Loades 1974, p. 418; Starkey 2006, pp. 114–115.
  8. Gregg 1981, p. 344.
  9. Loades 1974, p. 418.

Other websites[change | change source]