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The English Civil War

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The state of Monarchie is the supremest thing vpon earth: for Kings are not onely Gods Lieutenants vpon earth, and sit vpon Gods throne, but euen by God himselfe they are called Gods.
- James I, in a Speech to the Lords and Commons of Parliament at Whitehall, 21 March, 1609.
A King is a thing men have made for their own sakes, for quietness' sake.
- John Selden, Table Talk (1696 edition)

The English Civil War was not, as is often portrayed, a war between dashing Cavaliers and sombre Parliamentarians, these are just typecast roles and are as false as modern stereotypes. It was a war between Englishmen; both armies contained the nobility, gentlemen, craftsmen and the common man. This was in essence a political war fought over constitutional issues between a King who claimed to rule by divine right and a Parliament that professed to have rights and privileges independent of the crown; defining the role of Monarch, Parliament and the military for centuries to come. Its effects in many areas can still be seen today; for example in the way that the military today swears loyalty to the crown (with the Monarch as its Commander-in-Chief) but is funded (on an annual basis) by Parliament.

1640 - 1642

Although most historians date the start of the civil war at 22 August, 1642, when the Royal standard was raised at Nottingham, a complete study of the civil war cannot be done without looking at the period leading up to it.

In 1640, Charles I called a Parliament (historically known as the 'Short Parliament'1) together, on the advice of the two men who were his closest advisers, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Strafford, it was to raise money for the war against Scotland (the 'Bishop Wars'). When Parliament met, it was with a mood of reform among its members, as Charles I had proved most reluctant to call and to seek the advice of Parliament during his reign. So when the MPs met it was with common thought of the need to restore the traditional constitutional balance and not of war, so, on 5 May, the King dissolved Parliament again.

On the advice of a council of peers, which he had called together after a defeat against the Scots, he summoned another Parliament(historically known as the 'Long Parliament'2), which met at Westminster in November 1640. However, tension between Crown and Parliament continued to increase: first with Parliament's persecution and execution of the Earl of Strafford and then with the King's attempt to arrest members of Parliament in early January 1642. The King abandoned London on 10 January, 1642.

The First Civil War


Both the King and Parliament were forced to go on a recruiting drive. At this time there was no standing army in England; the only skilled soldiers were the Trained Bands (local militias) and those of the nobility and gentry who had served in Germany during the 30 Years War. Both managed to recruit armies of similar sizes (about 13,000 men), although the Royalist were superior in horse. The two armies met on 23 October, 1642, at Edgehill in Warwickshire. The battle proved a marginal victory for the Royalist and they marched on London. However, the Parliamentarian army met them at Turnham Green where the Royalists were forced to turn back. The King then retired to Oxford, which became the Royalist capital for the duration of the war.


During this year, the Royalists won a number of major victories; Hopton (Baron Hopton of Stratton) took control of the south west for the King with the aid of Prince Maurice (younger brother of Prince Rupert, the King's nephew), who had a stunning victory at Roundway Down on 13 July, 1643. The King's forces gained control of almost all of Yorkshire when the Royalists were victorious at Adwalton Moor, on 30 June, 1643. Parliament was victorious at Winceby on 11 October, 1643, and then went on to take Lincoln. Prince Rupert captured Bristol. After the first Battle of Newbury was fought on 20 September (in which an indecisive result was achieved), both sides sought aid; the King by bringing troops from Ireland and Parliament from Scotland3 in the form of the 'Solemn League and Covenant'4.


The army of the Scottish Coventers crossed the border on 19 January, 1644, in aid of the English Parliament and proceeded to York, which was defended by Royalist forces under the command of Marquis of Newcastle. The Scots were joined by a Parliamentarian army, which was commanded by the Earl of Manchester. Prince Rupert was given command of the forces sent to relive York. Rupert relieved York on 1 July, 1644; on the next day, Rupert's forces, along with the Marquis of Newcastle's forces that had been besieged at York, gave battle at Marston Moor. This is generally recognised as the largest battle to ever have taken place on English soil with over 45,000 combat troops involved, it resulted in a comprehensive defeat of the Royalist forces. Parliament now reigned unchallenged in the north.

Meanwhile, the King and his army left Oxford with forces under the command of Sir William Waller pursuing them. They met on 29 June, 1644, at Cropredy Bridge where the King defeated Waller. The King then set off in pursuit of the Earl of Essex and his troops, Essex was sandwiched between the King and western Royalist forces and was cornered at Lostwthial where his troops were disarmed but allowed to leave. On his way back to Oxford, the King was met by Essex, Waller and Manchester at Newbury, the second battle of Newbury, which was fought on 27 October, 1644, was inconclusive and failed to stop the King returning to Oxford.

1645 - 1646

In the winter of 1644 - 45 Parliament revamped its armies, combining those of Essex, Waller and Manchester to form the New Model Army. It was placed under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Oliver Cromwell as second-in-command5. The Royalist campaign started when the King marched north in an attempt to regain the northern counties; Fairfax followed and on 14 June, 1645, they met at Naseby. The Royalist forces were outnumbered almost two to one and suffered a massive defeat, this battle was the turning point of the war.

Parliament spent the rest of the year, and a good part of 1646, destroying the Royalist garrisons and the small armies the Royalists were still able to field. On 21 March, 1646, at Stow-on-the-Wold, the last Royalist army was defeated and on 5 May, 1646, the King surrendered to the Scots at Newark. This effectively brought an end to the fighting although it should be noted that the last Royalist garrison at Harlech did not surrender until 16 March, 1647.

The New Model Army, which was in disagreement with Parliament, kidnapped Charles; he then escaped, making his way to the Isle of Wight. The King then secretly opened up negotiations with the Scots, promising to establish Presbyterianism in England in exchange for aid.

The Second Civil War


In the spring of 1648, a series of Royalist uprisings took place in Wales, Kent and Essex. Cromwell was sent to Wales and Fairfax to Kent, where he managed to corner the rebels at Colchester, which he then besieged. Cromwell made swift work of subduing Wales and when the Scots crossed the border on 8 July, 1648, he was able to respond quickly and move to intercept them, which he did at Preston on 17 August, 1648, the battle ended with the defeat of the Scots on the 19 August, 1648. With all hope of relief gone Colchester surrendered on 28 August, 1648. This rebellion left a certain amount of resentment at Charles's duplicity and led to his trial and execution outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall on 30 January, 16496.

The Third Civil War

1650 - 1651

On the death of Charles I, his son Charles II was proclaimed King in Edinburgh. As Fairfax had resigned from his post as Commander-in-Chief over the trial of Charles I, Parliament placed Cromwell in command of its forces, he massed the Parliamentarian army at Berwick and at the end of July crossed the border into Scotland. The Scots managed to trap Cromwell's forces against the sea at Dunbar and on 3 September, 1650, Cromwell launched a counterattack defeating the Scots. He then placed an army of occupation into Scottish towns and castles and reduced Scotland to a state of subservience to the English Parliament.

The main Scottish army regrouped, re-equipped and invaded England on 6 August, 1651. They occupied Worcester on 22 August, 1651, an army of Royalist sympathisers led by the Earl of Derby moved to intercept Cromwell's pursuit of the Scots and they met at Wigan on 25 August, 1651, resulting in a defeat for the Royalists. Cromwell attacked Worcester on 3 September, 1651, the result was a disaster for the King and he fled in fear of his life at one point hiding in an oak tree7 to evade pursuit.

Charles II fled to France and stayed there until after the death of Cromwell8 when Parliament invited him to return. He was acknowledged King in England on 25 May, 16609.

Useful Web Resources

Civil War Re-enactment

1The Short Parliament sat from 13 April, 1640, to 5 May, 1640.2The Long Parliament sat from 3 November, 1640, for 13 years, until Oliver Cromwell suppressed it. Researchers should note that it was not formally dismissed until 1660, after the Restoration.3Although England and Scotland were under a unified Crown they still retained separate governments.4The Coventers fought for religious reasons rather than political ones.5With Cromwell now holding the rank Lieutenant-General of Horse.6Hence the many English public houses called 'The Kings Head'.7Hence the many English public houses called 'The Royal Oak'.8In 1653 Oliver Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland; acting as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Military. Oliver Cromwell's son briefly succeeded him as Lord Protector but proved an ineffective administrator. He was removed when General Monk marched from Coldstream and restored parliamentary democracy. To show his gratitude, Charles II renamed General Monk's regiment the Coldstream Guards and made General Monk the Duke of Albemarle.9Charles II reigned until his (natural) death in 1685.

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