"I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else."
Earl of Manchester: The King need not care how oft he fights... If we fight 100 times and beat him 99 he will be King still, but if he beats us but once, or the last time, we shall be hanged, we shall lose our estates, and our posterities be undone.''The English Civil War. Cromwell and Puritans, Roundheads and Cavaliers. Families divided against themselves. The King beheaded. Witchfinders-General. So what happened? Background Well, calling it the English Civil War isn't exactly accurate for a start. At this point, Scotland was still an independent kingdom (remaining so until the Act of Union of 1707) — as was Ireland (remaining so until the Act of Union of 1801) — they just happened to share the same Monarch as England. For this reason it has more recently been called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, or even (albeit much more rarely) the Wars of the Five Kingdoms, factoring in Wales and Cornwall. While both had been politically integrated into England, Wales still had a very strong national identity — sufficiently strong that Henry VII had felt that it was worth emphasising his Welsh ancestry to raise support for his successful bid for the throne — as did Cornwall; Italian historian Polydore Vergil remarked a hundred years before that the Cornish were effectively a people, if not a nation, apart, and numerous diplomats in the 16th and 17th centuries concurred with, placing them equivalent to the Welsh and the English in terms of ethnic groups. While they'd taken a hit after an unwise rebellion against the Crown during the Reformation (the Cornish language was restricted to the far west of Cornwall), they still retained a significant sense of identity. In short, the English Civil War was the largest part, like England was the largest part of Britain, but it was by no means the only part. As a result, more recently the wars have been dubbed the British Civil Wars. Furthermore, a lot of it was about religion, British variants on the controversies and struggles that embroiled Europe in the Thirty Years' War, which means that it has also been considered an appendage of the continental Wars of Religion. As for England, for centuries there had been tensions in England between the Monarchy and Parliament, both of whom saw themselves as being the rightful rulers of the country. Kings and Queens had the right to call and dismiss Parliament, but couldn't govern without it as it was Parliament that granted them the money they needed to do things—the English nobles and rich commoners having gotten it into their heads that taxes are a gift from the people to the king in gratitude for doing his job right,note rather than money taken by the king because he could—and kept the nobles happy and stopped them overthrowing the Monarch.note Well, mostly, anyway. Come the 17th century, the idea of The Divine Right of Kings was beginning to become popular through Europe - popular with Kings, at least - and England's new king, Charles I, was very keen on it indeed. He regarded Parliament as an irritant at best and mostly as a bunch of downright traitors. He solved this by the simple expedient of dissolving the annual Parliament one year, as usual, and simply not summoning it again. For eleven years. For just over a decade, Charles rules England directly, raising taxes directly through using some archaic laws and imposing heavy fines on the nobility for perceived misbehaviour. He also tried to impose his own idea of what the Church of England should look like. The Church of England was fundamentally Protestant in doctrinal issues, but because it had been conceived as a way of not annoying the Catholics too much there was provision for a lot of fanciness and ritual and ceremony, and (most significantly) running the Church under an episcopal structure—i.e. through a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, along Catholic lines (except with the King at the top instead of the Pope). Protestant mind, Catholic body and clothing, basically. Charles had turned the ritual Up to 11, and a lot of ordinary people (like Members of Parliament or MPs) were afraid that he was winding up for a full re-Catholicisation of the church. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the English population (including many of the aforementioned MPs) had gone to the opposite extreme and become Puritans. Puritanism had arisen in the previous century when a number of Anglican ministers came under the influence of the Franco-Swiss theologian John Calvin, who pushed an even more radical (for the times) version of Protestantism than the Lutherans and mainstream Anglicans. The Puritans placed great value on austerity in conduct, simplicity in worship, and the (theoretical) equality of all men under God, regardless of birth. In short, they basically stood against everything that King Charles and his supporters stood for. It wasn't, however, until Charles tried to get the English church system—and in particular impose episcopal church governance—on Scotland (which he was also king of) that it all kicked off. The Church of Scotland was (and remains to this day) Reformed (i.e. thoroughly Protestant—and specifically Calvinist—in doctrine) and Presbyterian (i.e. run as a kind of federal republic, with elected boards running individual parishes and sending delegates to assemblies that ran the regional and national Church on a quasi-democratic basis), thanks in part to the influence of one John Knox, who had been a disciple of Calvin in Geneva. The Scots rose up against him and captured Newcastle. Charles was in the unique position of paying both sets of troops: he was king of Scotland and England and they appeared to be at war with each other. He called Parliament to get them to vote him some money. Parliament took the opportunity to give him a good ticking-off, so he promptly dissolved it again a few weeks later - hence why it's called The Short Parliament. But the Scots were now occupying most of Northern England and still needed paying. Twice. So Charles reluctantly called Parliament again, and this time it was a doozy. Parliament held him to ransom, forcing him to sign all sorts of legislation guaranteeing England would remain Protestant, making it illegal for the King to levy taxes himself, gave Parliament control over who advised the King and finally forbade the King from summarily dissolving Parliament and saying it would meet at regular intervals whether called or not. This Long Parliament had one of the King's favourites put to death for treason, which caused chaos in Ireland as Catholics there feared there was about to be a Puritan purge of Catholics. The King reacted by having his men storm Parliament and try to arrest five MPs for treason. When the Speaker of the House refused to co-operate, he realised that he'd lost the loyalty of the House of Commons and fled London.note The First Civil War During 1642, cities and towns began declaring their allegiance either to King or to Parliament. Charles headed for the northern port of Hull to secure supplies of arms left over from the war with Scotland, but Hull declared for Parliament and locked the gates. Charles retreated to Nottingham and raised his Royal Standard - a symbolic act calling men to fight for their King and effectively declaring war on his own Parliament. He started to move through the countryside, again using archaic laws to recruit men, and promised to uphold the liberties of Parliament and the Protestant religion. Parliament, meanwhile, organized an army of its own under the command of the Earl of Essex. Before long, both sides had armies numbering in the tens of thousands and the inevitable first skirmish came between two sets of reconnoitering cavalry at Powick Bridge, near Worcester in the west Midlands, which was followed by the first full-scale battle, the Battle of Edgehill on 23 October. It was inconclusive, not least in part thanks to the indiscipline of the Royalist cavalry, charging off in pursuit of a fleeing foe rather than sticking around to make a difference on the battlefield. The war dragged on through 1643, and the Royalists seemed to be winning for much of that time. Most of Yorkshire was controlled by the King, and the cities of Lichfield and Bristol were captured after sieges. The turning point came late in the summer, when Essex's army lifted a Royalist siege of Gloucester and defeated them at the Battle of Newbury. With both sides in need of more soldiers, Parliament cut a deal with the Scots while the King negotiated a ceasefire in Ireland to release his English troops there to come back and fight for him at home. Heading into 1644, the kingdom's second city of York, a Royalist stronghold, came under siege for most of the year and a Royalist army sent to relieve the city was intercepted and defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor, in which a junior cavalry commander called Oliver Cromwell distinguished himself for the Parliament side. However, the Battle of Lostwitheil in Cornwall and the Second Battle of Newbury were both Parliamentarian defeats, and it was clear that something had to be done. In 1645, Parliament came up with a radical idea. It passed a law called the Self-Denying Ordinance, forcing all its generals to resign and drastically reorganising the army. Instead of a series of semi-private militias trained and equipped by local bigwigs, the New Model Army would be centrally-organised, issued with uniforms and given officers with genuine experience and ability rather than merely the means to buy a commission. The commander of this new army would be Sir Thomas Fairfax, and his second-in-command was that man Oliver Cromwell. The New Model Army is the direct ancestor of the modern British Army, which is why it's not called the Royal Army (as opposed to the Royal Navy, Marines, and Air Force). The New Model Army soundly thrashed the Royalist forces at Naseby on 14 June and Langport on 10 July and the game was up. Charles tried to set up a new power base but eventually sought refuge with some "friendly" Scots in May 1646, who promptly handed him over to the Parliamentary forces, and he was imprisoned. The Second Civil War However, Charles wasn't done yet. He secretly negotiated with the Scots, promising some church reform they wanted if they would invade England and restore him to his throne. They did, and a series of Royalist revolts erupted through England as well throughout 1648. Eventually, the Parliamentary forces were able to defeat all the Scots and rebels, culminating in the Battle of Preston in Lancashire on 17-19 August, in which Oliver Cromwell demolished the last remnants of the Royalist armies with remarkably few losses. Parliament was now divided on what to do next. Some supported the idea of trying the King for treason as he had made war on his own people. Others were horrified at this idea. Eventually, the New Model Army settled matters by marching on Parliament and taking over, arresting 45 MPs and keeping another 145 out of the chamber in what is called Pride's Purge (after the Colonel who oversaw the operation). Those who were left - the Rump Parliament - were ordered to set up a court to try King Charles. He was found guilty and executed on 30 January 1649 by beheading. The monarchy was then abolished and a Republic was set up, called the Commonwealth Of England, with a governing council leading the Rump Parliament. It also introduced England's first written constitution - the 'Instrument of Government'. The Third Civil War But Britain's troubles weren't over yet by any means. Charles had a son, who could now call himself Charles II, and he wanted the throne. A group of Irish Catholics known as the Irish Confederates signed a treaty with young Charles, disturbed at events in Parliament and fearing another Protestant purge. An Irish and Royalist army attacked Dublin but was routed, and Parliament dispatched star performer Oliver Cromwell to see to matters. See to them he did - the bloody and atrocity-filled campaign that Cromwell waged in Ireland (and particularly his massacre of the civilian populations of Drogheda) became one of the symbols of English oppression in Ireland and continues into the folk memory to this day, causing Historical Villain Upgrade (he got the opposite from 19th Century Whigs) - as bloody and brutal as Cromwell's conquest was it was motivated by a desire to end the English Civil War once and for all, preventing further 'effusion of blood'. While Cromwell and his immediate subordinates really did hate Catholics (as they did all other servants of Satan), as with the 'crusading' forces of both sides in the continental Thirty Years' War there was no serious consideration of genocide by any party, whatever the rhetoric of 'annihilating the unbelievers' (and some degree of support for that on the outspoken religious fringe). After the event, the very real atrocities and persecution tales of him became as exaggerated in modern times as the 1641 Irish revolt's massacre of Protestants was exaggerated then. The Irish campaign ground on until 1653 when, with an estimated 30% of Ireland's population dead, Cromwell confiscated almost all Catholic-owned land on the island and redistributed it to Parliamentarian supporters, and English settlers. Again, this redistribution of land and the way it concentrated all the power in the hands of a Protestant, English-oriented elite, was one of the major causes of The Troubles later. Meanwhile, Scotland had been having its own Civil war since 1644 which occasionally overlapped with the English one. The execution of Charles altered things a bit, particularly for the Royalist faction, who had been fighting the Covenanters who wanted the Scottish church to remain Presbyterian rather than have bishops like Charles wanted. So anyway, Charles II shows up, makes a deal with both sides and gets them to invade England in order to put him on the throne. Oliver Cromwell paused briefly in his conquest of Ireland to nip over and beat the Scots at Dunbar and Inverkeithing. Leaving the army with General Monck to finish conquering Scotland, he headed South to engage the King's army which had slipped into England and was heading for the old Royalist strongholds in the Southwest. Cromwell finally engaged Charles II's army at Worcester in September 1651 and defeated him. The king escaped, famously hiding in an oak tree to escape his pursuers at one point, and fled to France. Cromwell then returned to England, declared that the Rump Parliament wasn't doing any good at all, made a famous speech declaring "You have been sitting too long for all the good you are doing. In the name of God, go!"note . Parliament, anxious for a new powerful figure to fill the vacuum left by the monarchy, offered Cromwell the crown. He agonised over whether to accept for around two weeks before deciding that God had judged monarchy and so compromised by accepting the position of Head of State as "Lord Protector" of the Commonwealth in 1653 - an early form of "President for Life". This office had all the powers of the former King but was officially appointed by Parliament, the Protector also had the right to nominate a successor. As if that wasn't enough, he was also "enthroned" in a lavish ceremony, given the monarchical style of address "His Highness" and the abolished House of Lords was restored, in fact if not in name, as a second house of Parliament. Many republicans regarded this as far too similar to the old government of "King, Lords and Commons" and turned against Cromwell, but others believed the new regime was essential to fill the power vacuum left by the removal of the King and continued the English revolution in spirit, since Parliamentary support was officially required by the Lord Protector rather than divine right, and the state remained constitutionally republican. Under the "Protectorate", England (including Wales), Scotland and Ireland were politically united for the first time in Britain's history. The fall of the Protectorate and the Restoration This new form of republic in which Cromwell ruled with the powers of a monarch with two houses of Parliament was stable but didn't last much longer than he did. Cromwell remained in power until his death in 1658, at which point his
Cromwell: If this be so, why did we take up arms at first?
Cromwell: If this be so, why did we take up arms at first?
Depictions in fiction
- A Field In England
- As Meat Loves Salt
- The Devil's Whore
- To Kill A King
- A Midsummer Tempest (Alternate History version)
- By The Sword Divided
- Agent Peacock: Prince Rupert of the Rhine, famously.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Prince Rupert of the Rhine
- Badass Army: The New Model Army tore the cavaliers to pieces.
- Badass Bandolier: Musketeers on all sides wore a "Collar of Bandoliers" from which hung boxes of ammunition- the leather strap was known as a collar, and the individual powder boxes were known as bandoliers. "Bandolier" is nowadays the word for the collar, making this a particularly unique case. They're also known as Apostles, stemming from the fact that ammunition was issued by weight, and the twelve rounds most musketeers were given required twelve "bandoliers".
- Big Fancy Castle: Many of England's medieval castles were slighted to prevent them from being used as a fortress by the opposing side, or future rebellions. In the case of Pontefract Castle, the demolition was welcomed by the townspeople, as its status as the military strongpoint in Northern England meant that the town had to endure three separate sieges during the war.
- Big Good: In the First Civil War, Lord Thomas Fairfax was this for the Parliamentarians and King Charles was this for the Royalists.
- Canine Companion: Prince Rupert's standard poodle Pudel, (see page illustration), who was so inseparable from his master that some religiously-extreme Parliamentarians alleged that he was a demonic Familiar.
- Cavalry Officer: Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert.
- Conflicting Loyalty
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Royalists imprisoned in Coventry were totally ignored by the townspeople. This lives on in Britain that when a person is shunned and given the silent treatment from co-workers or peers it's said he's been "sent to Coventry".
- Curbstomp Battle: The Battle of Worcester. Charles II ended up having to hide in a tree to escape Cromwell's men.
- Demoted to Extra: Fairfax became less important and politically powerful as the wars went on. This actually served him pretty well. He was alive and well, and his reputation unmarred, during the Restoration, and did not suffer reprisals.
- Enemy Mine: The war in Ireland- which was one of the direct causes of all this- saw different invocations of this. For the first stretch the Civil War was practically put on hold as the Parliamentarians- including the Scots Covenanters, Parliamentarians, Royalists at each others' throats- all formed an uneasy common front against the Catholic Irish Confederacy. This climaxed with the senior English Royalist commander in Ireland turning over Dublin to Cromwell with the logic that he "preferred English rebels to Irish Ones." Only for the arrival of the New Model Army to cause the Royalists and Irish Confederates to ally.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Not exactly, but close to it. Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford was- even given the general moral ambiguity of the conflict- widely agreed to be both the most intelligent and most amoral and authoritarian of the King's advisors, and was infamous for his brutal treatment of Ireland. However, he also proposed that the King recruit an army of Irish mercenaries to defeat the Scots and- if need be- subdue Parliament, even though they were Irish and overwhelmingly Catholic. This did not end well for him.
- Face Death with Dignity: Charles was apparently delighted to be reunited with his beloved Jesus.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Oliver Cromwell went from being a cavalry officer to being military dictator of England all in the span of about six years.
- Four-Star Badass: Tons of these. Cromwell stands out, though. He's been called one of the finest soldiers Britain ever had.
- Highly Conspicuous Uniform: The New Model Army wore red, which became a standard for the British army. This was a Justified Trope in the 1640s; having a standardized and visible uniform meant an army could stay organized better on the field. The Royalists preferred Bling of War, in contrast.
- Actually, the idea that Royalists fought in fancy clothes and feathered hats while Parliamentarians wore buff-coats and helmets is a misconception based on Victorian illustrations. Both sides would have worn practical kit in combat.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The Parliamentarians took advantage of this at Marston Moor and Naseby.
- My Master, Right or Wrong
- Noble Fugitive: Charles' sons
- Officer and a Gentleman: Lord Fairfax, whose conduct and demeanor were so gentlemanly that there are few accounts that portray him as anything, but positively. It helps that under his leadership was subject to something of a Nostalgia Filter once Cromwell and Ireton came to greater prominence.
- Off with His Head!: Strafford, Archbishop William Laud and Charles I.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Fairfax resigned his position as Army head after Pride's Purge. Actually killing the King was way beyond what he wanted.
- Spinoff: The Hanover-Stuart Wars draw from this to the point of being an obvious sequel. Ethnic and religious quarrels related to this lasted so long that at least one author claimed to trace the lineup in The American Revolution and The American Civil War all the way back to the English Civil War.
- Take a Third Option: Charles was losing the Bishop wars so he either had to consent to the Scot's demands or reopen Parliament. His Lord Deputy in Ireland, Strafford, suggested crushing the rebels with an Irish Catholic army. Parliament thought he was inviting a Catholic invasion so they impeached Strafford and forced the king to execute him. This caused an Irish uprising.
- War Is Hell
- Warrior Prince - Charles' nephew Rupert.
- We Have Reserves: The main strategy of the Scottish Covenanters throughout the war. In spite of being led by several competent leaders (at first) their armies were generally poorly trained and ripped by political dissension, but their numbers meant they tried to overawe their enemies. In practice they occupied Northern England by throwing more men at the even worse off and demoralized Royalist troops then they knew what to do against, spent most of the rest of the war being terrorized by the outnumbered Royalists under Montrose and overcoming him by feeding him one army after another until he couldn't eat any more, and then were utterly flattened by Parliament's New Model Army.