The English Civil War (or Wars) refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651, specifically to the first (1642–1645) and second (1648–1649) civil wars between the supporters of King Charles I and the supporters of the Long Parliament, and the unsuccessful campaign by Charles II which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.
The wars were inextricably mixed with and formed part of a linked series of conflicts and civil wars between 1639 and 1651 in the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, which at that time shared a monarch but were distinct countries in political organisation. These linked conflicts are called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms by recent historians aiming to have a unified overview rather than treating parts of the other conflicts as background to the English Civil War. Some have also described them as the "British Civil Wars", but this is misleading as the kingdoms did not become a single political entity until the Act of Union 1800.
The wars 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 a Protectorate (1653–1659) under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England came to an end, and a new Protestant aristocracy was established in Ireland. A precedent was set that the king could not govern without the consent of Parliament and the people.
Unlike other civil wars in England which were about who ruled, this one was also about how the country should be governed, so it is also referred to as the English Revolution and (especially in Royalist circles at the time) as the Great Rebellion.
It must have seemed unthinkable to people of the time that a civil war could result from the events that were taking place. It was less than forty years since the death of the popular Elizabeth I. At the accession of Charles I, England and Scotland were relatively peaceful, and had been so in living memory. Charles had real hopes of fulfilling the dream of his father, James I of England (James VI of Scotland), of uniting the whole British Isles in a single kingdom. Charles shared his father's feelings in regard to the power of the crown, which James had described as "little Gods on Earth", or "Divine Right of Kings". Although pious and with little personal ambition, Charles demanded outright loyalty in return for "just rule". Any questioning of his orders was considered insulting, at best. It was this latter trait and a series of events that tested it, seemingly minor on their own, that led to a serious break between Charles and his Parliament, eventually leading to war.
Before the War, Parliament was not a permanent branch of English government, but a temporary advisory committee summoned by the English monarch whenever additional tax revenue was required, and subject to dissolution at the monarch's will. Because responsibility for collecting taxes was in the hands of the English gentry, the English monarchs needed their help in order to guarantee that revenue came in without difficulty. If the gentry were to refuse to collect the King's taxes, the King would be powerless to compel them. Parliaments allowed representatives of the gentry to meet, converse and send policy proposals to the King (in the form of Bills). These representatives did not, however, have any means to force their will upon the King.
One of the first events to cause concern about Charles I was his marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, shortly after his accession to the throne in 1625. These royal marriages were commonplace at the time, but his choice of a Catholic cast him in the role of potential Papist among the small but powerful Puritan minority in Parliament, who made up around one third of the members.
A potentially more troublesome issue was Charles' insistence in joining the wars raging in Europe, which he saw as something of a holy crusade. This alone might not have been a problem, except that Charles had placed his own "favourite", George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, in command. Parliament was rather suspicious of Buckingham, whom they had to deal with under James as well, and eventually they decided to support the war effort only on the proviso that Buckingham could be recalled if he did not perform. The Parliament of 1625 then granted him the right to collect customs duties only for a year and not, as was usual, for his entire reign. After a disastrous raid on France, Parliament dismissed Buckingham in 1626, and Charles, furious at what he considered insolence, dismissed the Parliament.
Petition of Right
Having dissolved Parliament, and being unable to raise money without it, the king assembled a new one in 1628. Among the members elected was Oliver Cromwell. The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right in 1628, and Charles accepted it as a concession to get his subsidy. Amongst other things the Petition referred to Magna Carta and said that a citizen should have freedom from:
- arbitrary arrest and imprisonment,
- non-parliamentary taxation,
- the enforced billeting of troops, and
However, Charles was determined to rule without summoning another Parliament, and this required him to devise new means of raising extraordinary revenue. Among the most controversial of these was the revival and extension of ship money. This tax had been levied in the medieval era on seaports, but Charles extended it to inland counties as well. As a levy for the Royal Navy, ship money was, according to Charles and his supporters, needed for the defence of the realm and therefore within the legitimate scope of the royal prerogative.
The tax had not been approved by Parliament, however, and a number of prominent men refused to pay it on these grounds. Reprisals against Sir John Eliot, one of the prime movers behind the Petition of Right, and the prosecution of William Prynne and John Hampden (who were fined after losing their case 7-5 for refusing to pay ship money, taking a stand against the legality of the tax) aroused widespread indignation. Charles' use of the Court of Star Chamber in this issue also served to anger many, as the court had always been seen as the citizenry's last appeal against the monarch's power, and was now apparently being used against them.
The Eleven Years' Tyranny, Wars on Scots
Charles I managed to avoid a Parliament for a decade. Depending on one's political affiliation, this time was known either as the "Eleven Years' Tyranny" or "Charles' Personal Rule". This policy broke down when he provoked a series of disastrous and expensive wars against his Scottish subjects — the Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640.
Charles believed in a sacramental version of the Church of England, called High Anglicanism, with a theology based on 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.
As part of Charles' plan to have one uniform High Anglican church across all three kingdoms, he forced the English Common Prayer Book upon Scotland. The Scots reacted explosively when it was introduced in the spring of 1638 with riots started in Edinburgh by Jenny Geddes leading to the National Covenant, then sought to purge bishops from the Church of Scotland altogether. Charles took a year to raise an army, and sent it north in 1639 to end the rebellion. After a disastrous skirmish he decided to seek a truce, the Pacification of Berwick , and was humiliated by being forced to agree not only not to interfere with religion in Scotland, but to pay the Scottish war expenses as well.
In the summer of 1642, these national troubles were important in forming opinion out of the welter of indecision, about which side to support or what action to take. So too, was the aggregate of the many local grievances. For example, the imposition of this or that drainage scheme in The Fens, by people having drainage contracts with the king, led to the loss of livelihood by thousands of people. 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. That in turn, played a part in bringing with it, people like the Earl of Manchester and Oliver Cromwell, each a notable wartime adversary of the King. Conversely, one of the leading contractors, the Earl of Lindsey, was with the King when he died at Edge Hill.
Recall of Parliament
Charles needed to suppress the rebellion in his northern realm — he was insufficiently funded, however, and was forced to seek money from a recalled Parliament in 1640. Parliament took this appeal for money as an opportunity to discuss grievances against the Crown; moreover, they were opposed to the military option. Charles took exception to this lèse majesté and dismissed the Parliament; the name "the Short Parliament" was derived from this summary dismissal. Without Parliament's support, Charles attacked Scotland again and was comprehensively defeated; the Scots, seizing the moment, took Northumberland and Durham.
Meanwhile another of Charles's chief advisers, Thomas 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 relgious concessions. In 1639 he had been recalled to England and in 1640 granted the title Earl of Strafford, as Charles attempted 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.
The Long Parliament
In desperate straits, Charles was obliged to summon Parliament again in November 1640; this was the "Long Parliament". None of the issues raised in the Short Parliament had been addressed, and again Parliament took the opportunity to raise them, refusing to be dismissed. Under the leadership of John Pym and John Hampden, a law was passed which stated that Parliament should be reformed every three years, and refused the king's right to dissolve Parliament. Other laws were passed making it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes, and later a law was passed that gave members control over the king's ministers.
With Ireland apparently peaceful after Strafford's able administration of eight years, Charles thought he saw a way out — Strafford had raised an Irish Catholic army and was prepared to use it against Scotland. Of course the very thought of a Catholic army campaigning against the Scots from Protestant England was considered outrageous by the parliamentary party. In early 1641 Strafford was arrested and sent to the Tower of London on the charge of treason. John Pym made the claim that Wentworth's statements of being ready 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 John Pym and Henry Vane, resorted to a Bill of Attainder. Unlike treason, attainder required not only the burden of proof, but also the king's signature. Charles, still incensed over the Common'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, Earl of Strafford, was executed on May 12, 1641.
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 started that the Irish were being supported by the king, and Puritan members of the Commons were soon agitating that this was the sort of thing Charles had in store for all of them.
On January 4, 1642, Charles attempted to arrest five members of the Parliament (John Hampden, John Pym, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, and William Strode) on a charge of treason; this attempt failed, however, as they had been tipped off and gone into hiding prior to the arrival of the king's troops. When the troops marched into Parliament the officer in charge demanded of the Speaker where the five were. The Speaker replied that he had "neither eyes to see nor ears to hear save as this house [the Commons] directs me". In other words, the Speaker was a servant of Parliament, rather than of the King. Parliamentary supporters took to arms to protect the five men as they escaped across London.
The First English Civil War
The "Long Parliament", having controverted the king's authority, raised an army led by Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex. The purpose of this army was twofold: it was to defeat both an invasion from Scotland and also the attempts by the king and his supporters to restore the monarchy's power. Charles I, in the meantime, had left London and also raised an army using the archaic system of a Commission of Array. He raised the royal standard at Nottingham in August.
In September 1642, King Charles I raised his standard in the market square of Wellington, a small, though highly influential, market town in the English Midland county of Shropshire and addressed his troops the next day at nearby Orleton Hall . He declared that he would uphold the Protestant Religion, the Laws of England, and the Liberty of Parliament. The "Wellington Declaration" (otherwise known as the Declaration of Wellington) was held to be so important that it was stamped on the reverse of the 10/- silver coins RELIG:PROT:LEG:ANG:LIBER:PAR and silver half crowns (2/6) REL.PRO.LEG.ANG.LIB.PAR that the Royal Mint produced at that time. The abbreviations are short for "RELIGIO PROTESTANTIUM, LEGES ANGLIAE, LIBERTAS PARLIAMENTI" which is the declaration in Latin.
In 1642 the military governor of Kingston upon Hull, Sir John Hotham declared the city for the Parliamentarian cause and refused the King entry into the city and its large arsenal. Charles took great personal affront to this act, and declared Hotham a traitor. Charles' unsuccessful siege of the city precipitated open conflict between the Parliamentarian and Royalist causes.
At the outset of the conflict, much of the country was neutral, though the Royal Navy and most English cities favoured Parliament, and the King found considerable support in rural communities. It is thought that between them, both sides had only about 15,000 men. However, the war quickly spread and eventually involved every level of society throughout the British Isles. Many areas attempted to remain neutral but found it impossible to withstand both the King and Parliament. On one side the king and his supporters fought for traditional government in Church and state. On the other, supporters of Parliament sought radical changes in religion and economic policy and major reforms in the distribution of power at the national level. In addition, Parliament was not the united front portrayed in much of later history. At one point in the nine years of war there were more members of Parliament and Lords in the King's parliament than there were at Westminster.
Parliament did, however, have more resources at its disposal, due to its possession of all major cities including the large arsenals at Hull and London. For his part, Charles hoped that quick victories would negate Parliament's advantage in material. This precipitated the first battle, the first siege of Hull in July 1642, which provided a decisive victory for Parliament.
A later battle at Edgehill was inconclusive, but claimed by both the Royalist and Parliamentarian sides as a victory. One of the king's outstanding leaders was his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Palatinate, a dashing cavalry commander. Playing a minor part in the battle on the other side was a cavalry troop raised by a country gentleman, evangelical puritan, and former Member of Parliament named Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was later to devise the New Model Army system still evident in military organisation today. This was characterised by a unified command structure and professionalism, which would firmly swing military advantage towards Parliament. The second action of the war was the stand-off at Turnham Green which saw Charles forced to withdraw to Oxford. This was to be 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 besieged and captured 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 then was able to take Bristol. In the same year, Oliver Cromwell formed his troop of "Ironsides", a disciplined unit which demonstrated his military ability. With their assistance, he was victorious at the Battle of Gainsborough in July.
After an inconclusive battle at Newbury in September, on October 11, 1643, the Parliamentarian army 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.
Parliament won at Marston Moor in 1644, gaining York with the help of the Scots. Cromwell's conduct in this battle was decisive, and marked him out as a potential political as well as a military leader. The defeat at the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, however, was a serious reverse for Parliament in the south-west of England.
In 1645 Parliament reorganized its main forces into the New Model Army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Cromwell as his second-in-command and Lieutenant-General of Horse. In what were in retrospect, two decisive engagements, the Battles of Naseby on June 14 and of Langport on July 10, Charles's armies were effectively destroyed.
In the debris 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, Nottinghamshire. Those towns had become fortresses and more reliably his than others were. 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 was the end of the First English Civil War.
Capture of Charles
Charles was ransomed by Parliament and held captive at Holdenby House whilst Parliament drew up plans. In the meantime, Parliament began to demobilize and disband the army. The army was unhappy about issues such as arrears of pay and living conditions and resisted the disbandment. Eventually the army kidnapped Charles in an attempt to negotiate using their hostage as a bargaining piece. He spent three months at Hampton Court Palace, before escaping to the Isle of Wight where he was recaptured and imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle. Increasingly concerned, the army marched to London in August 1647 and debated proposals of their own at the Putney Debates.
The Second English Civil War
Charles I took advantage of this deflection of attention away from him to negotiate a new agreement with the Scots, again promising church reform on December 28, 1647. Although Charles himself was still a prisoner, this agreement led inexorably to the "Second Civil War".
A series of royalist rebellions and a Scottish invasion in July 1648 took place. All were defeated by the now powerful standing army. This betrayal by Charles caused Parliament to debate whether Charles should be returned to power at all. Those who still supported Charles's place on the throne tried once more to negotiate with him. Unpaid parliamentarian troops in Wales changed sides; the revolt was firmly put down by Cromwell. Major English Royalist resistance was ended at the Battle of Preston (1648).
Trial of Charles I for treason
Furious that Parliament were still countenancing Charles as a ruler, the army marched on parliament and conducted "Pride's Purge" (named after the commanding officer of the operation, Thomas Pride). 45 Members of Parliament (MPs) were arrested; 146 were kept 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.
Although Cromwell had some difficulty in finding judges to take part, in 1648, by a 68 to 67 vote, the Parliament found Charles I guilty of treason, being a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy". He was executed at the Palace of Whitehall in 1649. The majority of the Regicides who signed his death warrant were themselves executed or imprisoned upon the later Restoration of the Monarchy.
The Third English Civil War
See Also the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland
Ireland had been at war since the rebellion of 1641, with most of the island being controlled by the Irish Confederates. In 1648, in the wake of Charles I's arrest, and the growing threat to them from the armies of the English Parliament, 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 were routed at the battle of Rathmines. As the former Member of Parliament Admiral Robert Blake blockaded Prince Rupert of the Rhine'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, its significance is mainly symbolic 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, Parliamentary soldiers who served in Ireland and the pre-war British settlers there.
The execution of Charles I altered the dynamics of the Scottish Civil War. At first Charles II encouraged the Earl of 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 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. Due to the dynamics of Highland clan politics and feuds, however, Montrose was unable to abandon the fight. His highland army was defeated at 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. Charles landed in Scotland at Garmouth in Morayshire on June 23 1650 and signed the 1638 Covenant and the 1643 Solemn League immediately after coming ashore.
The threat posed by King Charles II with his original Scottish Royalist followers and his new Covenanter allies was considered to be the greatest facing the new English Republic so Cromwell left some of his lieutenants in Ireland to continue the suppression of the Irish Royalists and crossed the Irish channel to Scotland. He arrived in Scotland on July 22 1650 and proceeded to lay seige to Edinburgh. By the end of August, his army was reduced by disease and a shortage of supplies, so he was forced to order a retreat towards England. A Scottish army assembled under the command of David Leslie tried to stop them, but the Scotts 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 the 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 was unable to prevent Charles II from marching from Scotland deep into England at the head of another Royalist army. The Royalist army 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 the 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 beat him. Charles II fled, via safe houses and a famous oak tree to France, ending the civil wars.
During the course of the Wars, a number of successive committees were established by the Parliamentarians to oversee the war effort. The first of these was the Committee of Safety, created in July 1642, which comprised 15 Members of Parliament.
Following the Anglo-Scottish alliance against the Royalists, it was replaced by the Committee for Both Kingdoms 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.
It is estimated that around 10 percent of the three kingdoms' population may have died during the civil wars. As was usual in wars of this era, more deaths were caused by disease than by combat.
The wars left England, Ireland and Scotland as three of the few countries in Europe without a monarch. In the wake of victory many of the ideals, and many of the idealists, were set aside. England, and later all Scotland and Ireland, were ruled by the republican government of the Commonwealth of England during 1649–1653 and 1659–1660. Between the two periods, and due to infighting amongst various factions in parliament, Oliver Cromwell ruled over The Protectorate as Lord Protector, effectively a military dictator, until his death.
Upon his death, Oliver Cromwell's son, Richard, was made Lord Protector. Richard's main weakness was that he did not have the confidence of the army. After seven months the Army removed Richard and in May 1659 it reinstalled the Rump. However, this too was dissolved shortly afterwards, since it acted as though nothing had changed since 1653 and so it could treat the Army how it liked. After the Rump was dissolved in October, there was a real prospect of a total descent into anarchy as the Army's pretence of unity finally dissolved into factions.
It was into this atmosphere that 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 been 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, he was acclaimed king. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. These events became known as the English Restoration.
With the monarchy restored with the consent of Parliament, the civil wars effectively set England and Scotland on course to become a parliamentary democracy and after the acts of union help United Kingdom avoid the later 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 the 1701 Act of Settlement. After the Restoration Parliament's factions became political parties (later becoming the Tories and Whigs) with competing views and the ability to influence decisions of the monarch.
Theories relating to the English Civil War
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 and 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 the wider trend in British history of studying the whole of the British Isles (IONA), in the same history, a reaction against perceived 'Anglocentric' history, which only 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 of the problems 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 off the Civil War in England. Therefore this history sees the civil wars as a series of conflicts in each of Charles' three kingdoms which seem like separate conflicts in some respects, but at the same time interrelate closely.
There are two large historical societies, The Sealed Knot and The English Civil War Society, that regularly re-enact events and battles of the Civil War in full period costume.
Last updated: 10-19-2005 13:34:01