English Civil War

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The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads) and Royalists (known as Cavaliers) from 1642 until 1651. The first (1642 - 1645) and second (1648 - 1649) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649 - 1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

The Civil War led to the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II, and the replacement of the English monarchy with the Commonwealth of England (1649 - 1653) and then with a Protectorate (1653 - 1659): the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England came to an end, and the victors consolidated the already-established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established a precedent that British monarchs could not govern without the consent of Parliament although this would not be cemented until the Glorious Revolution later in the century.


The term English Civil War is commonly used in this singular form despite the fact that there were three wars. Although it describes events as impinging on England, from the outset the conflicts involved wars with and civil wars within both Scotland and Ireland; see Wars of the Three Kingdoms for an overview.

Unlike other civil wars in England which focused on who ruled, this war also concerned itself with the manner of governing the British Isles. Accordingly, historians also refer to the English Civil War as the English Revolution and works such as the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica call it the Great Rebellion. The term English Revolution was and is especially favoured by Marxist historians such as Christopher Hill.


The King's aspirations[edit]

File:Charels I by Daniel Mytens in 1631.jpg
Charles I in 1631, by Daniel Mytens.

Contemporaries must have found it unthinkable that a civil war could result from the events taking place. War broke out less than forty years after the death of the popular Elizabeth I in 1603. At the accession of Charles I, England and Scotland had both experienced relative peace, both internally and in their relations with each other, for as long as anyone could remember. Charles hoped to unite the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland into a new single kingdom, fulfilling the dream of his father, James I of England (James VI of Scotland). Many English Parliamentarians had suspicions regarding such a move because they feared that setting up a new kingdom might destroy the old English traditions which had bound the English monarchy. As Charles shared his father's position on the power of the crown (James had described kings as "little Gods on Earth", chosen by God to rule in accordance with the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings"), the suspicions of the Parliamentarians had some justification.

Although pious and with little personal ambition, Charles demanded outright loyalty in return for "just rule". He considered any questioning of his orders as, at best, insulting. This latter trait, and a series of events, seemingly minor on their own, led to a serious break between Charles and his English Parliament, and eventually to war.

Parliament in the English constitutional framework[edit]

Before the fighting, the Parliament of England did not have much of a permanent role in the English system of government, instead functioning as a temporary advisory committee — summoned by the monarch whenever the Crown required additional tax revenue, and subject to dissolution by the monarch at any time. Because responsibility for collecting taxes lay in the hands of the gentry, the English kings needed the help of that stratum of society in order to ensure the smooth collection of that revenue. If the gentry were to refuse to collect the King's taxes, he would lack the authority to compel them. Parliaments allowed representatives of the gentry to meet, confer and send policy-proposals to the monarch in the form of Bills. These representatives did not, however, have any means of forcing their will upon the king — except by withholding the financial means he required to execute his plans.

Parliamentary Concerns and the Petition of Right[edit]

File:Sir Peter Lely 001.jpg
Henrietta Maria, painted by Peter Lely, 1660.

One of the first events to cause concern about Charles I came with his marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess, Henriette-Marie de Bourbon. The marriage occurred in 1625, right after Charles came to the throne. Charles's marriage raised the possibility that his children, including the heir to the throne, could be raised Catholic, a frightening thing to Protestant England.

Charles also wanted to take part in the conflicts underway in Europe, then immersed in the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648). As ever, foreign wars required heavy expenditure, and the Crown could raise the necessary taxes only with Parliamentary consent (as described above). Charles experienced even more financial difficulty when his first Parliament refused to follow the tradition of giving him the right to collect customs duties for his entire reign, deciding instead to grant it for only a year at a time.

Charles, meanwhile, pressed ahead with his European wars, deciding to send an expeditionary force to relieve the French Huguenots whom Royal French forces held besieged in La Rochelle. George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, received command of the English force. Unfortunately for Charles and Buckingham, the relief expedition failed, and Parliament opened impeachment proceedings against Buckingham. Charles responded by dissolving Parliament. This move, while saving Buckingham, reinforced the impression that Charles wanted to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of his ministers.

Having dissolved Parliament, and unable to raise money without it, the king assembled a new one in 1628. (The elected members included Oliver Cromwell.) The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right, and Charles accepted it as a concession in order to get his subsidy. Amongst other things the Petition referred to the Magna Carta.

The Personal Rule and the rebellion in Scotland[edit]

Charles I managed to avoid calling a Parliament for the next decade. Depending upon their political affiliation, the English referred to this time either as the "Eleven Years' Tyranny" or as "Charles' Personal Rule".

During this period, Charles' lack of finances largely determined his policies. Accordingly, his Government pursued peaceful policies at home and abroad, and initiated only minimal new legislative activity — Charles preferring to claim that the legitimacy of his personal rule relied on the continuity of ancient customs. His lack of finances caused a number of problems, however. Failure to observe conventions became in some cases a finable offence (for example, a failure to attend and be knighted at Charles' coronation), while the use of patents and monopolies, and local measures such as demanding payment for illegal houses in London, created ample scope for corruption and led to local discontents.

Charles also tried to raise revenue in the form of Ship Money. Exploiting a naval war scare in 1635, he demanded that the inland counties of England pay a tax to support the Royal Navy. This policy relied on established law, but law which had been ignored for centuries, and so was regarded by many as an extra-Parliamentary (and therefore illegal) tax. A number of prominent men refused to pay it on these grounds. Reprisals against William Prynne and John Hampden (fined after losing their case 7 to 5 for refusing to pay ship money and for making a stand against the legality of the tax) aroused widespread indignation.

However, Charles aroused the most antagonism through his religious measures. Charles believed in a sacramental version of the Church of England, called High Anglicanism, with a theology based upon Arminianism, a belief shared by his main political advisor, Archbishop William Laud. Laud was appointed by Charles as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and started a series of reforms in the Church to make it more ceremonial, starting with the replacement of the wooden communion tables with stone altars.

Puritans accused Laud of trying to reintroduce Catholicism, and when they complained, Laud had them arrested. In 1637 John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne had their ears cut off for writing pamphlets attacking Laud's views — a rare penalty for gentlemen to suffer, and one that aroused anger. Moreover, the statutes passed in the time of Elizabeth I concerning church attendance were revived; Puritans around the country were fined for failure to attend Anglican services.

The end of Charles' independent governance came when he attempted to apply his religious policies in Scotland. The Church of Scotland, although Episcopalian in structure, had long enjoyed its own independent traditions. Charles, however, wanted one uniform church throughout Britain, and introduced a new, High Anglican, version of the English Common Prayer Book into Scotland in the summer of 1637. This met with a violent reaction. A riot broke out in Edinburgh, said to have been started by one Jenny Geddes; and in February 1638 Scots' objections to royal policy were formulated in the National Covenant. This document took the form of a 'loyal protest', rejecting all innovations that had not first been tested by free parliaments and General Assemblies of the church. Before long, Charles was forced to withdraw his Prayer Book and summon a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which met in Glasgow in November, 1638. The Assembly, affected by the radical mood of the times, not only rejected the Prayer Book, but went on to take the even more drastic step of declaring the office of bishop as unlawful. Charles demanded the acts of the Assembly be withdrawn; the Scots refused to comply, and both sides began to raise armies. Charles accompanied his forces to the Border in the spring of 1639 to end the rebellion. After an inconclusive campaign he decided to seek a truce, the Pacification of Berwick. A second Bishops War followed in the summer of 1640. The royal forces in the north were defeated by a Scots army, which went on to capture Newcastle. Charles was eventually forced to agree not only not to interfere with religion in Scotland, but to pay the Scottish war expenses as well.

Recall of Parliament[edit]

Charles needed to suppress the rebellion in his northern realm. He had insufficient funds, however, and had perforce to seek money from a newly elected Parliament in 1640. The majority faction in the new Parliament, led by John Pym, took this appeal for money as an opportunity to discuss grievances against the Crown, and were opposed to an English invasion of Scotland. Charles took exception to this lèse-majesté (offence against the ruler) and dissolved Parliament after only a few days, this earning it the name "the Short Parliament".

Without Parliament's support, Charles attacked Scotland again, breaking the truce at Berwick, and suffered a comprehensive defeat. The Scots then seized the opportunity and invaded England, occupying Northumberland and Durham.

Meanwhile, another of Charles's chief advisers, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Viscount Wentworth, had risen to the role of Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632 and brought in much needed revenue for Charles by persuading the Irish Catholic gentry to pay new taxes in return for promised religious concessions. In 1639 Charles recalled him to England, and in 1640 made him Earl of Strafford, attempting to have him work his magic again in Scotland. This time he was not so lucky, and the English forces fled the field in their second encounter with the Scots in 1640. Almost the entirety of Northern England was occupied, and Charles was forced to pay £850 per day to keep the Scots from advancing. If he did not, they would "take" the money by pillaging and burning the cities and towns of Northern England.

All this put Charles in a desperate financial position. As King of Scotland, he was required to find money to pay the Scottish army in England; as King of England, to find money to pay and equip an English army to defend England. His means of raising revenue without Parliament were critically short of being able to achieve this. It was against this backdrop, and according to advice from the Magnum Concilium (the House of Lords, but without the Commons, so not a Parliament), that Charles finally bowed to pressure and summoned Parliament for November.

The Long Parliament[edit]

Main article: Long Parliament

The new Parliament proved even more hostile to Charles than its predecessor. It immediately began to discuss grievances against Charles and his Government, and with Pym and Hampden (of Ship Money fame) in the lead, took the opportunity presented by the King's troubles to force various reforming measures upon him. A law was passed which stated that a new Parliament should convene at least once every three years, without the King's summons if necessary. Other laws passed by the Parliament made it illegal for the king to impose taxes without Parliamentary consent, and later, gave Parliament control over the king's ministers. Finally, the Parliament passed a law forbidding the King to dissolve it without its consent, even if the three years were up. Ever since, this Parliament has been known as the "Long Parliament". However, Parliament did attempt to avert conflict by requiring all adults to sign The Protestation.

In early 1641, Parliament had Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, arrested and sent to the Tower of London on a charge of treason. John Pym claimed that Wentworth's statements of readiness to campaign against "the kingdom" were in fact directed at England itself. The case could not be proven, so the House of Commons, led by Pym and Henry Vane, resorted to a Bill of Attainder. Unlike a guilty finding in a court case, attainder did not require a legal burden of proof, but it did require the king's approval. Charles, still incensed over the Commons's handling of Buckingham, refused. Wentworth himself, hoping to head off the war he saw looming, wrote to the king and asked him to reconsider. Thomas Wentworth was executed in May, 1641.[1]

Instead of saving the country from war, Wentworth's sacrifice in fact doomed it to one. Within months, the Irish Catholics, fearing a resurgence of Protestant power, struck first, and the entire country soon descended into chaos. Rumours circulated that the King supported the Irish, and Puritan members of the Commons were soon agitating that this was the sort of thing that Charles had in store for all of them.

In early January 1642, Charles, accompanied by 400 soldiers, attempted to arrest five members of the House of Commons on a charge of treason. This attempt failed. When the troops marched into Parliament, Charles asked William Lenthall, the Speaker, where the five were. Lenthall replied "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House [of Commons] is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here." In other words, the Speaker proclaimed himself a servant of Parliament, rather than of the King.

Local grievances[edit]

In the summer of 1642 these national troubles helped to polarize opinion, ending indecision about which side to support or what action to take. Opposition to Charles also arose owing to many local grievances. For example, the livelihoods of thousands of people were negatively affected by the imposition of drainage schemes in The Fens after the King awarded a number of drainage contracts. The King was regarded by many as worse than insensitive and this was important in bringing a large part of eastern England into Parliament’s camp. This sentiment brought with it people like the Earl of Manchester and Oliver Cromwell, each a notable wartime adversary of the King. Conversely, one of the leading drainage contractors, the Earl of Lindsey, was to die fighting for the King at the Battle of Edge Hill.

The First English Civil War[edit]

File:English civil war map 1642 to 1645.JPG
Maps of territory held by Royalists (red) and Parliamentarians (green), 1642 — 1645

In early January 1642, a few days after his failure to capture five members of the House of Commons and fearing for his own personal safety and that of his family and retinue, Charles left the London area. Further negotiations by frequent correspondence between the King and the Long Parliament through to early summer proved to be fruitless. As the summer progressed cities and towns declared their sympathies for one faction or the other for example, the garrison of Portsmouth under the command of Sir George Goring declared for the King, but when Charles tried to acquire arms for his cause from the Kingston upon Hull, the depository for the weapons used in the previous Scottish campaigns, Sir John Hotham, the military governor appointed by Parliament in January, initially refused to let Charles enter Hull and when Charles returned with more men drove them off. Charles issued a warrant for Hotham to be arrested as a traitor but was powerless to enforce it. Throughout the summer months as tensions rose and there was brawling in a number of places with the first death of the conflict taking place in Manchester.[2]

At the outset of the conflict, much of the country remained neutral, though the Royal Navy and most English cities favoured Parliament, while the king found considerable support in rural communities. Historians estimate that between them, both sides had only about 15,000 menTemplate:Fact. However, the war quickly spread and eventually involved every level of society throughout the British Isles. Many areas attempted to remain neutral, some formed bands of Clubmen to protect their localities against the worst excesses of the armies of both sides, but most found it impossible to withstand both the King and Parliament. On one side, the King and his supporters thought that they fought for traditional government in Church and state. On the other, most supporters of the Parliamentary cause, initially took up arms to defend what they thought was the traditional balance of government in Church and state which had been undermined by the bad advice the King had received from his advisers, before and during the "Eleven Years' Tyranny". The views of the Members of Parliament ranged from unquestioning support of the King – at one point during the First Civil War, there were more members of the Commons and Lords in the King's Oxford Parliament than there were at Westminster – through to radicals, who wanted major reforms in favour of religious independence and the redistribution of power at the national level.

After the debacle at Hull Charles moved on to Nottingham where on 22 August 1642, he raised the royal standard. When he raised his standard Charles had with him about 2,000 cavalry and a small number of Yorkshire infantry men, and using the archaic system of a Commission of Array Charles's supporters started to build a larger army around the standard. Charles moved in a south westerly direction first to Stafford and then on to Shrewsbury because the support for his cause seemed particularly strong in the Severn valley area and in North Wales.[3] While passing through Wellington in what became known as the "Wellington Declaration" he declared that he would uphold the "Protestant religion, the laws of England, and the liberty of Parliament".

The Parliamentarians, who opposed the King, had not been passive during this pre-war period, as with Kingston upon Hull they had taken measures to secure other strategic towns and cities by appointing men sympathetic to their cause, and on June 9 they had voted to raise an army of 10,000 volunteers appointing Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex commander three days later. He was ordered "to rescue His Majesty's person, and the persons of the Prince [of Wales] and the Duke of York out of the hands of those desperate persons who were about them". The lords lieutenants, who were appointed by parliament used the Militia Ordinance to order the militia to join Essex's army.[4]

Two weeks after the King had raised his standard at Nottingham, Essex led his army north towards Northampton, picking up support along the way including a detachment of Cambridgeshire cavalry raised and commanded by Oliver Cromwell. By the middle of September his army had grown to 21,000 infantry and 4200 cavalry and dragoons. On the 14 September he moved his army to Coventry and then to the north of the Cotswolds. A strategy which placed his army between the Royalists and London. With the size of both armies now in the tens of thousands and only Worcestershire between them it was inevitable that cavalry reconnaissance units would sooner or later meet. This happened in the first major skirmish of the Civil War when a cavalry troop of about 1,000 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert, a German nephew of the King and one of the outstanding cavalry commanders of the war, defeated a Parliamentary cavalry detachment under the command of Colonel John Brown at the Battle of Powick Bridge a bridge across the River Teme close to Worcester. [5]

Rupert withdrew to Shrewsbury, where at a council of war two courses of action were discussed either to advance towards Essex's new position near Worcester, or as the road to London was open to advance towards London. It was decided to advance towards London not to avoid a battle, for the Royalist generals wanted to fight Essex before he grew too strong, and the temper of both sides made it impossible to postpone the decision. In the Earl of Clarendon's words: "it was considered more counsellable to march towards London, it being morally sure that Essex would put himself in their way". Accordingly, the army left Shrewsbury on 12 October, gaining two days' start on the enemy, and moved south-east. This had the desired effect as it forced Essex to move to intercept them.[6]

The first pitched battle at Edgehill fought on 23 October 1642, proved inconclusive, but both the Royalist and Parliamentarian sides claimed it as a victory. The second field action of the war, the stand-off at Turnham Green, saw Charles forced to withdraw to Oxford. This city would serve as his base for the remainder of the war.

In 1643 the Royalist forces won at Adwalton Moor and gained control of most of Yorkshire. In the Midlands, a Parliamentary force under Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet besieged and captured the cathedral city of Lichfield after the death of the original commander, Lord Brooke, and subsequently joined forces with Sir John Brereton to fight the inconclusive battle of Hopton Heath, where the Royalist commander, the Earl of Northampton, was killed. Subsequent battles in the west of England at Lansdowne and at Roundway Down also went to the Royalists. Prince Rupert could then take Bristol. In the same year, Oliver Cromwell formed his troop of "Ironsides", a disciplined unit that demonstrated his military leadership ability. With their assistance he won a victory at the Battle of Gainsborough in July.

In general, the early part of the war went well for the Royalists. The turning point came in the late summer and early autumn of 1643, when the Earl of Essex's army forced the king to raise the siege of Gloucester and then brushed the Royalist army aside at the First Battle of Newbury (20 September 1643), in order to return triumphantly to London. Other Parliamentarian forces won the Battle of Winceby, giving them control of Lincoln. Political manoeuvring on both sides now led Charles to negotiate a ceasefire in Ireland, freeing up English troops to fight on the Royalist side, while Parliament offered concessions to the Scots in return for aid and assistance.

With the help of the Scots, Parliament won at Marston Moor in 1644, gaining York and the north of England. Cromwell's conduct in this battle proved decisive, and demonstrated his potential as a political or military leader. The defeat at the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, however, marked a serious reverse for Parliament in the south-west of England. Subsequent fighting around Newbury, though tactically indecisive, strategically gave another check to Parliament.

In 1645, Parliament reaffirmed its determination to fight the war to a finish. It passed the Self-denying Ordinance, by which all members of either House of Parliament laid down their commands, and reorganized its main forces into the New Model Army ("Army"), under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Cromwell as his second-in-command and Lieutenant-General of Horse. In two decisive engagements — the Battles of Naseby on June 14 and of Langport on July 10 — Charles's armies were effectively destroyed.

In the remains of his English realm, Charles attempted to recover stability by consolidating the Midlands. He began to form an axis between Oxford and Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire. Those towns had become fortresses and showed more reliable loyalty to him than to others. He took Leicester, which lies between them, but found his resources exhausted. Having little opportunity to replenish them, on May 1646, he sought shelter with a Scottish army at Southwell in Nottinghamshire. This marked the end of the First English Civil War.

The Second English Civil War[edit]

Charles I took advantage of this deflection of attention away from himself to negotiate a new agreement with the Scots, again promising church reform, on December 28 1647. Although Charles himself remained a prisoner, this agreement led inexorably to the Second Civil War.

A series of Royalist uprisings throughout England and a Scottish invasion occurred in the summer of 1648. Forces loyal to Parliament put down most of the uprisings in England after little more than skirmishes, but uprisings in Kent, Essex and Cumberland, the rebellion in Wales and the Scottish invasion involved the fighting of pitched battles and prolonged sieges.

In the spring of 1648 unpaid Parliamentarian troops in Wales changed sides. Colonel Thomas Horton defeated the Royalist rebels at the Battle of St. Fagans (May 8) and the rebel leaders surrendered to Cromwell on July 11 after the protracted two month siege of Pembroke. A Royalist uprising in Kent was defeated by Sir Thomas Fairfax at the Battle of Maidstone on June 24. Fairfax, after his success at Maidstone and the pacification of Kent, turned northward to reduce Essex, where, under their ardent, experienced and popular leader Sir Charles Lucas, the Royalists were in arms in great numbers. Fairfax soon drove the enemy into Colchester, but the first attack on the town was repulsed and he had to settle down to a long siege.

In the North of England, Major-General John Lambert fought a very successful campaign against a number of Royalist uprisings — the largest that of Sir Marmaduke Langdale in Cumberland. Thanks to Lambert's successes, the Scottish commander, the Duke of Hamilton, was forced to take the west route through Carlisle for the Royalist Scottish invasion of England. The Parliamentarians under Cromwell engaged the Scots at the Battle of Preston (August 17August 19). The battle was fought largely at Walton-le-Dale near Preston in Lancashire, and resulted in a victory by the troops of Cromwell over the Royalists and Scots commanded by Hamilton. This Parliamentarian victory marked the end of the Second English Civil War.

Nearly all the Royalists who had fought in the First Civil War had given their parole not to bear arms against the Parliament, and many honourable Royalists, like Lord Astley, refused to break their word by taking any part in the second war. So the victors in the Second Civil War showed little mercy to those who had brought war into the land again. On the evening of the surrender of Colchester, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were shot. The leaders of the Welsh rebels, Major-General Rowland Laugharne, Colonel John Poyer and Colonel Rice Powel, were sentenced to death, but Poyer alone was executed on April 25 1649, being the victim selected by lot. Of five prominent Royalist peers who had fallen into the hands of Parliament, three, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Holland, and Lord Capel, one of the Colchester prisoners and a man of high character, were beheaded at Westminster on March 9.

Trial of Charles I for treason[edit]

The betrayal by Charles caused Parliament to debate whether to return the King to power at all. Those who still supported Charles's place on the throne tried once more to negotiate with him.

Furious that Parliament continued to countenance Charles as a ruler, the army marched on Parliament and conducted "Pride's Purge" (named after the commanding officer of the operation, Thomas Pride) in December 1648. Troops arrested 45 Members of Parliament (MPs) and kept 146 out of parliament. Only 75 were allowed in, and then only at the army's bidding. This Rump Parliament was ordered to set up a high court of justice in order to try Charles I for treason in the name of the people of England.

The show trial reached its foregone conclusion. 59 Commissioners (judges) found Charles I guilty of high treason, as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy". He was beheaded on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on January 30, 1649. After the Restoration in 1660, the regicides who were still alive and not living in exile were either executed or sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Third English Civil War[edit]


Ireland had known continuous war since the rebellion of 1641, with most of the island controlled by the Irish Confederates. Increasingly threatened by the armies of the English Parliament after Charles I's arrest in 1648, the Confederates signed a treaty of alliance with the English Royalists. The joint Royalist and Confederate forces under Ormonde attempted to eliminate the Parliamentary army holding Dublin, but their opponents routed them at the Battle of Rathmines. As the former Member of Parliament Admiral Robert Blake blockaded Prince Rupert's fleet in Kinsale, Oliver Cromwell was able to land at Dublin on August 15, 1649 with the army to quell Royalist alliance in Ireland.

Cromwell's suppression of the Royalists in Ireland during 1649 still has a strong resonance for many Irish people. The massacre of nearly 3,500 people in Drogheda after its capture — comprising around 2,700 Royalist soldiers and all the men in the town carrying arms, including civilians, prisoners, and Catholic priests — is one of the historical memories that has driven Irish-English and Catholic-Protestant strife during the last three centuries. However, the massacre is significant mainly as a symbol of the Irish perception of Cromwellian cruelty, as far more people died in the subsequent guerrilla and scorched earth fighting in the country than at infamous massacres such as Drogheda and Wexford. The Parliamentarian conquest of Ireland ground on for another four years until 1653, when the last Irish Confederate and Royalist troops surrendered. It has been estimated that up to 30% of Ireland's population either died or were exiled by the end of the wars. Almost all Irish Catholic owned land was confiscated in the wake of the conquest and distributed to the Parliament's creditors, to the Parliamentary soldiers who served in Ireland, and to English people who had settled there before the war.


The execution of Charles I altered the dynamics of the Scottish Civil War, which had raged between Royalists and Covenanters since 1644. By 1649, the Royalists there were in disarray and their erstwhile leader, the Marquess of Montrose, was in exile. At first, Charles II encouraged Montrose to raise a Highland army to fight on the Royalist side. However, when the Scottish Covenanters (who did not agree with the execution of Charles I and who feared for the future of Presbyterianism and Scottish independence under the new Commonwealth) offered him the crown of Scotland, Charles abandoned Montrose to his enemies. However, Montrose, who had raised a mercenary force in Norway, had already landed and was unable to abandon the fight. He was unable to raise many Highland clans and his army was defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale in Ross-shire on April 27 1650. Montrose was captured shortly afterwards and taken to Edinburgh, where on May 20 he was sentenced to death by the Scottish parliament and was hanged the next day.

File:Cromwell at Dunbar Andrew Carrick Gow.jpg
"Cromwell at Dunbar", Andrew Carrick Gow.

Charles landed in Scotland at Garmouth in Morayshire on June 23 1650 and signed the 1638 National Covenant and the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant immediately after coming ashore. With his original Scottish Royalist followers and his new Covenanter allies, King Charles II became the greatest threat facing the new English Republic. In response to the threat, Cromwell left some of his lieutenants in Ireland to continue the suppression of the Irish Royalists and returned to England.

He arrived in Scotland on July 22, 1650 and proceeded to lay siege to Edinburgh. By the end of August disease and a shortage of supplies had reduced his army, and he was forced to order a retreat towards his base at Dunbar. A Scottish army, assembled under the command of David Leslie, tried to block the retreat, but the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar on September 3. Cromwell's army then took Edinburgh, and by the end of the year, his army had occupied much of southern Scotland.

In July 1651, Cromwell's forces crossed the Firth of Forth into Fife and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Inverkeithing. The New Model Army advanced towards Perth, which allowed Charles, at the head of the Scottish army, to move south into England. Cromwell followed Charles into England, leaving George Monck to finish the campaign in Scotland. Monck took Stirling on August 14 and Dundee on September 1. The next year, 1652, the remnants of Royalist resistance were mopped up, and under the terms of the "Tender of Union", the Scots were given 30 seats in a united Parliament in London, with General Monck appointed as the military governor of Scotland.


Although Cromwell's New Model Army had defeated a Scottish army at Dunbar, Cromwell could not prevent Charles II from marching from Scotland deep into England at the head of another Royalist army. The Royalists marched to the west of England because it was in that area that English Royalist sympathies were strongest, but although some English Royalists joined the army, they came in far fewer numbers than Charles and his Scottish supporters had hoped. Cromwell finally engaged the new king at Worcester on September 3 1651, and defeated him. Charles II escaped, via safe houses and a famous oak tree, to France, ending the civil wars.

Political control[edit]

During the course of the Wars the Parliamentarians established a number of successive committees to oversee the war effort. The first of these, the Committee of Safety, created in July 1642, comprised 15 Members of Parliament.

Following the Anglo-Scottish alliance against the Royalists, the Committee of Both Kingdoms replaced the Committee of Safety between 1644 and 1648, when it was dissolved as the alliance ended. The English members of the former Committee for Both Kingdoms continued to meet and became known as the Derby House Committee. This in turn was replaced by a second Committee of Safety.


Estimates suggest that around 10 percent of the three kingdoms' population may have died during the civil wars. As usual in wars of this era, disease caused more deaths than combat did.

The wars left England, Scotland and Ireland amongst the few countries in Europe without a monarch. In the wake of victory, many of the ideals (and many of the idealists) became sidelined. The republican government of the Commonwealth of England ruled England (and later all of Scotland and Ireland) from 1649 to 1653 and from 1659 to 1660. Between the two periods, and due to in-fighting amongst various factions in Parliament, Oliver Cromwell ruled over the Protectorate as Lord Protector (effectively a military dictator) until his death in 1658.

Upon his death, Oliver Cromwell's son Richard became Lord Protector, but the Army had little confidence in him. After seven months the Army removed Richard, and in May 1659 it re-installed the Rump. However, since the Rump Parliament acted as though nothing had changed since 1653 and as if it could treat the Army as it liked, military force shortly afterwards dissolved this too. After the second dissolution of the Rump, in October 1659, the prospect of a total descent into anarchy loomed as the Army's pretence of unity finally dissolved into factions.

Into this atmosphere General George Monck, governor of Scotland under the Cromwells, marched south with his army from Scotland. On April 4, 1660, in the Declaration of Breda, Charles II made known the conditions of his acceptance of the crown of England. Monck organised the Convention Parliament, which met for the first time on April 25. On May 8 it declared that King Charles II had reigned as the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I in January 1649. Charles returned from exile on May 23. Later in London, on May 29, the populace acclaimed him as king. His coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1661. These events became known as the English Restoration.

As they resulted in the restoration of the monarchy with the consent of Parliament, the civil wars effectively set England and Scotland on course to adopt a parliamentary monarchy form of government. This system would result in the outcome that the future Kingdom of Great Britain, formed in 1707 under the Acts of Union, would avoid participation in the European republican movements that followed the Jacobin revolution in 18th-century France and the later success of Napoleon. Specifically, future monarchs became wary of pushing Parliament too hard, and Parliament effectively chose the line of succession in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution and in the 1701 Act of Settlement. After the Restoration, Parliament's factions became political parties (later becoming the Tories and Whigs) with competing views and varying abilities to influence the decisions of their monarchs.

Theories relating to the English Civil War[edit]

Throughout the greater part of the 20th century, two schools of thought dominated theoretical explanations of the Civil War: the Marxists and the 'Whigs'. Both of them explained the English seventeenth century in terms of long-term trends.

Whigs explained the Civil War as the result of a centuries-long struggle between Parliament (especially the House of Commons) and the monarchy. Parliament fought to defend the traditional rights of Englishmen, while the monarchy attempted on every occasion to expand its right to dictate law arbitrarily. The most important Whig historian, S.R. Gardiner, popularized the idea of describing the civil war as a 'Puritan Revolution' which challenged the repressive nature of the Stuart church and paved the way for the religious toleration of the Restoration. Puritanism, in this view, became the natural ally of a people seeking to preserve their traditional rights against the arbitrary power of the monarchy.

The Marxist school of thought, which became popular in the 1940s, interpreted the Civil War as a bourgeois revolution. In the words of Christopher Hill, "the Civil War was a class war". On the side of reaction stood the landed aristocracy and its ally, the established church. On the other side stood (again, according to Hill) "the trading and industrial classes in town and countryside. . . the yeomen and progressive gentry, and. . . wider masses of the population whenever they were able by free discussion to understand what the struggle was really about". The Civil War occurred at the point in English history at which the wealthy middle classes, already a powerful force in society, liquidated the outmoded medieval system of English government. Like the Whigs, the Marxists found a place for the role of religion in their account. Puritanism as a moral system ideally suited the bourgeois class, and so the Marxists identified Puritans as inherently bourgeois.

Beginning in the 1970s, a new generation of historians began mounting challenges to the Marxist and Whig theories. This began with the publication in 1973 of the anthology The Origins of the English Civil War (edited by Conrad Russell). These historians disliked the way that Marxists and Whigs explained the Civil War in terms of long-term trends in English society. The new historians called for, and began producing, studies which focussed on the minute particulars of the years immediately preceding the war, thus returning in some ways to the sort of contingency-based historiography of Clarendon's famous contemporary history of the Civil War. As a result, they have demonstrated that the pattern of allegiances in the war did not fit the theories of Whig or Marxist historians. Puritans, for example, did not necessarily ally themselves with Parliamentarians, and many of them did not identify as bourgeois; many bourgeois fought on the side of the King; many landed aristocrats supported Parliament.

The new generation of historians (commonly called 'Revisionists') have discredited large sections of the Whig and Marxist interpretations of the war. Many of these historians (such as Jane Ohlmeyer) have discarded the title 'English Civil War' and replaced it with the 'Wars of the Three Kingdoms' or even the geographically arguable but politically incorrect 'British Civil Wars'. This forms part of a wider trend in British history towards the study of the whole of the British Isles (IONA). This trend reacts against what its proponents perceive as 'Anglocentric' history, which concentrates on England and ignores or marginalizes other parts of the British Isles. These revisionist historians argue that one cannot fully understand the English Civil War in isolation; it needs to stand as just one conflict in a series of interlocking conflicts throughout the British Isles. They see the causes of the war as a consequence arising from one king, Charles I, ruling over multiple kingdoms. For example, the wars unfolded when Charles I tried to impose an Anglican prayer book on Scotland; when the Scots resisted he declared war on them, but had to raise heavy taxes in England to pay for campaigning, which triggered the Civil War in England.


Two large historical societies exist, The Sealed Knot and The English Civil War Society, which regularly re-enact events and battles of the Civil War in full period costume.

See also[edit]


  • Royal, Trevor; "Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660"; Pub Abacus 2006; (first published 2004); ISBN 9780349115641

Further reading[edit]


  1. Jacob Abbott Charles I Chapter Downfall of Strafford and Laud
  2. Trevor Royle References pp. 158-166
  3. Trevor Royle References pp 170, 183
  4. Trevor Royle References pp 165, 161
  5. Trevor Royle References pp 171-188
  6. Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition

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