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English Civil War

Related subjects: British History 1500-1750

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The English Civil War (1642-1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists. The first (1642–1646) 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 replacement of English monarchy with first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653), and then with a Protectorate (1653–1659), under Oliver Cromwell's personal rule. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England ended with the victors consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that a British monarch can not govern without Parliament's consent, although this concept was established only with the Glorious Revolution later in the century.


The term English Civil War appears most commonly in the singular form, although historians often divide the conflict into two or three separate wars. Although the term 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 Britain and Ireland. Historians sometimes refer to the English Civil War as the English Revolution and works such as the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica call it the Great Rebellion. Marxist historians such as Christopher Hill (1912–2003) have long favoured the term English Revolution.


The King's Rule

War broke out less than forty years after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 ended her long reign. At the accession of Charles I in 1625, 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.

Charles I, painted by Anthony van Dyck.

Although pious and with little personal ambition, Charles expected outright loyalty in return for "just rule". He considered any questioning of his orders as, at best, insulting. This trait, and a series of events, each 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

Before the fighting, the Parliament of England did not have a large permanent role in the English system of government, instead 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 refused to collect the King's taxes, the Crown would lack any practical means with which 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 required to execute his plans.

Parliamentary concerns and the Petition of Right

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, Henrietta-Marie de Bourbon. The marriage occurred in 1625, right after Charles came to the throne. Charles' marriage raised the possibility that his children, including the heir to the throne, could grow up as Catholics, a frightening prospect 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. The royal favourite, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, secured the command of the English force. Unfortunately for Charles and Buckingham, the relief expedition proved a fiasco (1627), and Parliament, already hostile to Buckingham for his monopoly on royal patronage, opened impeachment proceedings against him. 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.

Personal Rule

Charles I avoided calling a Parliament for the next decade, known as the " Eleven Years' Tyranny" or "Charles's Personal Rule". During this period , Charles's lack of money determined policies. Unable to raise revenue through Parliament — reluctant to convene it — he resorted to other means. Thus, not observing often long-outdated conventions became, in some cases, a finable offence (for example, a failure to attend and to receive knighthood at Charles's coronation), with the fine paid to the Crown. He tried to raise revenue through the ship money tax, by exploiting a naval war-scare in 1635, demanding that the inland English counties pay the tax for the Royal Navy. Established law supported this policy, but authorities had ignored it for centuries, many regarded it as yet another extra-Parliamentary (and therefore illegal) tax. Some prominent men refused to pay ship money arguing that the tax was illegal, but they lost in court and the fines imposed on them for refusing to pay ship money (and for standing against the tax's legality) aroused widespread indignation.

During the "Personal Rule," Charles aroused most antagonism through his religious measures: he believed in High Anglicanism, a sacramental version of the Church of England, theologically based upon Arminianism, a creed shared with his main political advisor, Archbishop William Laud. In 1633, Charles appointed Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury and started making the Church more ceremonial, replacing the wooden communion tables with stone altars. Puritans accused Laud of reintroducing Catholicism; when they complained, he 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, and one that aroused anger. Moreover, the Church authorities revived the statutes passed in time of Elizabeth I about church attendance, and fined Puritans for not attending Anglican church services.

Rebellion in Scotland

The end of Charles's independent governance came when he attempted to apply the same religious policies in Scotland. The Church of Scotland, reluctantly Episcopal in structure, had independent traditions. Charles, however, wanted one, uniform Church throughout Britain, and introduced a new, High Anglican, version of the English Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in summer of 1637. This was violently resisted; a riot broke out in Edinburgh, which may have been started in a church by Jenny Geddes; and, in February of 1638, the Scots formulated their objections to royal policy in the National Covenant. This document took the form of a "loyal protest", rejecting all innovations not first having been tested by free parliaments and General Assemblies of the Church.

Before long, King Charles withdrew his prayer book, and summoned a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in Glasgow, in November of 1638. The General Assembly, affected by the contemporary radical mood, rejected the Prayer Book, then drastically declared unlawful the office of bishop. Charles demanded the acts of the Assembly be withdrawn; the Scots refused; both sides began raising armies.

In spring of 1639, King Charles I accompanied his forces to the Scottish border, to end the rebellion known as the Bishops War, but, after an inconclusive military campaign, he accepted the offered Scottish truce — the Pacification of Berwick. The truce proved temporary; a second war followed in summer of 1640. This time, a Scots army defeated Charles's forces in the north, then captured Newcastle. Charles eventually agreed not to interfere with Scotland's religion, and paid the Scots war-expenses.

Recall of the English Parliament

Charles needed to suppress the rebellion in Scotland. He had insufficient funds, however, and had perforce to seek money from a newly-elected English 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 opposed the idea of an English invasion of Scotland. Charles took exception to this lèse-majesté (offence against the ruler) and dissolved the Parliament after only a few weeks; hence 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' 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 Wentworth to England, and in 1640 made him Earl of Strafford, attempting to have him work his magic again in Scotland. This time he proved less successful, 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 Scots, he had 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 English revenue without an English Parliament fell critically short of achieving this. Against this backdrop, and according to advice from the Magnum Concilium (the House of Lords, but without the Commons, so not a Parliament), Charles finally bowed to pressure and summoned another English Parliament in November 1640.

The 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. The legislators passed a law 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, an oath of allegiance to Charles.

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 aimed in fact at England itself. Unable to prove the case in court, 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' handling of Buckingham, refused. Wentworth himself, hoping to head off the war he saw looming, wrote to the king and asked him to reconsider. Wentworth's execution took place in May, 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 all Ireland soon descended into chaos. Rumours circulated that the King supported the Irish, and Puritan members of the Commons soon started murmuring that this exemplified the fate that Charles had in store for them all.

In early January 1642, accompanied by 400 soldiers, Charles 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 inquired of William Lenthall, the Speaker, as to the whereabouts of the five. Lenthall replied "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House 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

In the summer of 1642 these national troubles helped to polarise 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 imposition of drainage-schemes in The Fens negatively affected the livelihood of thousands of people after the King awarded a number of drainage-contracts. Many regarded the King as worse than insensitive, and this played a role in bringing a large part of eastern England into Parliament’s camp. This sentiment brought with it people such as 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 Edgehill.

The First English Civil War

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, fearing for his own personal safety and for 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 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 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, tensions rose and there was brawling in a number of places, with the first death of the conflict taking place in Manchester.

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 men. However, the war quickly spread and eventually involved every level of society. 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 of as the traditional balance of government in Church and state, which the bad advice the King had received from his advisers had undermined 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, more members of the Commons and Lords gathered in the King's Oxford Parliament than 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' 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. 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 remained passive during this pre-war period. As in the case of Kingston upon Hull they had taken measures to secure strategic towns and cities, by appointing men sympathetic to their cause, and on 9 June they had voted to raise an army of 10,000 volunteers, appointing Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex commander three days later. He received orders "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 Lieutenant, whom Parliament appointed, used the Militia Ordinance to order the militia to join Essex's army.

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 Essex's forces had grown to 21,000 infantry and 4200 cavalry and dragoons. On 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 in the Battle of Powick Bridge, at a bridge across the River Teme close to Worcester.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Rupert withdrew to Shrewsbury, where, a council-of-war discussed two courses of action: whether to advance towards Essex's new position near Worcester, or to march along the now opened road towards London. The Council decided to take the London route, but 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.

The first pitched battle of the war, fought at Edgehill on 23 October 1642, proved inconclusive, and both the Royalists and Parliamentarians 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. This group subsequently joined forces with Sir John Brereton to fight the inconclusive Battle of Hopton Heath ( 19 March 1643), 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 manoeuvering to gain an advantage in numbers led Charles to negotiate a ceasefire in Ireland, freeing up English troops to fight on the Royalist side in England, while Parliament offered concessions to the Scots in return for aid and assistance.

With the help of the Scots, Parliament won at Marston Moor ( 2 July 1644), gaining York and the north of England. Cromwell's conduct in this battle proved decisive, and demonstrated his potential as both a political and an important 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 ( 27 October 1644), 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 re-organized 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 Battle of Naseby on 14 June and the Battle of Langport on 10 July — the Parliamentarians effectively destroyed Charles' armies.

In the remains of his English realm Charles attempted to recover a stable base of support 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, in 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

"And when did you last see your father?" by William Frederick Yeames.

Charles I took advantage of the deflection of attention away from himself to negotiate a new agreement with the Scots, again promising church reform, on 28 December 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 ( 8 May) and the rebel leaders surrendered to Cromwell on 11 July after the protracted two-month siege of Pembroke. Sir Thomas Fairfax defeated a Royalist uprising in Kent at the Battle of Maidstone on 24 June. 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 had taken up arms in great numbers. Fairfax soon drove the enemy into Colchester, but his first attack on the town met with a repulse 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, had perforce to take the western route through Carlisle in his pro-Royalist Scottish invasion of England. The Parliamentarians under Cromwell engaged the Scots at the Battle of Preston ( 17 August – 19 August). The battle took place 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, Parliamentarians had Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle shot. Parliamentary authorities sentenced the leaders of the Welsh rebels, Major-General Rowland Laugharne, Colonel John Poyer and Colonel Rice Powel to death, but executed Poyer alone ( 25 April 1649), having selected him 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 9 March.

Trial of Charles I for treason

The betrayal by Charles caused Parliament to debate whether to return the King to power at all. Those who still supported Charles' 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 the chamber. They allowed only 75 Members in, and then only at the Army's bidding. This Rump Parliament received orders to set up, in the name of the people of England, a High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I for treason.

At the end of the trial the 59 Commissioners (judges) found Charles I guilty of high treason, as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy". His beheading took place on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on 30 January 1649. (After the Restoration in 1660, Charles II executed the surviving regicides not living in exile or sentenced them to life imprisonment.)

The Third English Civil War


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 the Duke of Ormonde attempted to eliminate the Parliamentary army holding Dublin, but their opponents routed them at the Battle of Rathmines ( 2 August 1649). As the former Member of Parliament Admiral Robert Blake blockaded Prince Rupert's fleet in Kinsale, Oliver Cromwell could land at Dublin on 15 August 1649 with an army to quell the Royalist alliance in Ireland.

Cromwell's suppression of the Royalists in Ireland during 1649 still has a strong resonance for many Irish people. After the siege of Drogheda, the massacre of nearly 3,500 people — comprising around 2,700 Royalist soldiers and all the men in the town carrying arms, including civilians, prisoners, and Catholic priests — became one of the historical memories that has driven Irish-English and Catholic-Protestant strife during the last three centuries. However, the massacre has significance 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. Historians have estimated that around 30% of Ireland's population either died or had gone into exile by the end of the wars. The victors confiscated almost all Irish Catholic-owned land in the wake of the conquest and distributed it 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 the Civil War in Scotland, which had raged between Royalists and Covenanters since 1644. By 1649, the struggle had left the Royalists there in disarray and their erstwhile leader, the Marquess of Montrose, had gone into 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 could not abandon the fight. He did not succeed in raising many Highland clans and the Covenanters defeated his army at the Battle of Carbisdale in Ross-shire on 27 April 1650. The victors captured Montrose shortly afterwards and took him to Edinburgh. On 20 May the Scottish Parliament sentenced him to death and had him hanged the next day.

"Cromwell at Dunbar", Andrew Carrick Gow.

Charles II landed in Scotland at Garmouth in Morayshire on 23 June 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 22 July 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 had 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 Cromwell defeated them 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 ( 20 July 1651). 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 14 August and Dundee on 1 September. The next year, 1652, saw the mopping up of the remnants of Royalist resistance, and under the terms of the " Tender of Union", the Scots received 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 English Royalist sympathies were strongest in that area, 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 3 September 1651, and defeated him. Charles II escaped, via safe houses and a famous oak tree, to France, ending the civil wars.

Political control

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, set up 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. Parliament dissolved the Committee of Both Kingdoms when the alliance ended, but its English members continued to meet and became known as the Derby House Committee. A second Committee of Safety then replaced that committee.


As usual in wars of this era, disease caused more deaths than combat. There are no accurate figures for these periods, and it is not possible to give a precise overall figure for those killed in battle, from those who died from disease, or even from a natural decline in population.

Figures for casualties during this period are unreliable, but some attempt has been made to provide rough estimates. In England, a conservative estimate is that roughly 100,000 people died from war-related disease during the three civil wars. Historic records count 84,830 casualties of the wars themselves. Counting in accidents and the two Bishops' wars, an estimate of 190,000 people is achieved.

Figures for Scotland are more unreliable and should be treated with greater caution. Casualties include the deaths of prisoners of war in conditions that accelerated their deaths, with estimates of 10,000 prisoners not surviving or not returning home (8,000 captured during and immediately after the Battle of Worcester were deported to New England, Bermuda and the West Indies to work for landowners as indentured labourers). There are no figures to calculate how many died from war-related diseases, but if the same ratio of disease to battle deaths from English figures is applied to the Scottish figures, a not unreasonable estimate of 60,000 people is achieved.

Figures for Ireland are described as "miracles of conjecture". Certainly the devastation inflicted on Ireland was unbelievable, with the best estimate provided by Sir William Petty, the father of English demography. Although Petty's figures are the best available, they are still acknowledged as being tentative. The do not include the estimate of 40,000 driven into exile, some of whom served as soldiers in European continental armies, while others were sold as indentured servants to New England and the West Indies. Many of those sold to landowners in New England eventually prospered, but many of those sold to landowners in the West Indies were worked to death. Petty estimates that 112,000 Protestants were killed through plague, war, and famine, and that 504,000 Catholics were killed, giving an estimated total of 618,000.

These estimate indicate that England suffered a 3.7% loss of population, Scotland a loss of 6%, while Ireland suffered a loss of 41% of its population. Putting these numbers into the context of other catastrophes helps to understand the devastation to Ireland in particular. The Great Hunger of 1845-1852 resulted in a loss of 16% of the population, while during the second world war, the population of the Soviet Union fell by 16%.

Popular gains

Ordinary people took advantage of the dislocation of civil society during the 1640s to derive advantages for themselves. The contemporary guild democracy movement won its greatest successes among London's transport workers, notably the Thames watermen.

Rural communities seized timber and other resources on the sequestrated estates of royalists and catholics, and on the estates of the royal family and the church hierarchy. Some communities improved their conditions of tenure on such estates.

The old status quo began a retrenchment after the end of the main civil war in 1646, and more especially after the restoration of monarchy in 1660. But some gains were long-term. The democratic element introduced in the watermen's company in 1642, for example, survived, with vicissitudes, until 1827.


The wars left England, Scotland, and Ireland among 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 though it could treat the Army as it liked, military force shortly afterwards dissolved this, as well. 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 4 April 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 25 April 1660. On 8 May 1660, 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 23 May 1660. On 29 May 1660, the populace in London acclaimed him as king. His coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. These events became known as the English Restoration.

Although the monarchy was restored, it was still only with the consent of Parliament; therefore, 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 manage to forestall the kind of often-bloody revolution, typical of European republican movements that followed the Jacobin revolution in 18th century France and the later success of Napoleon, which generally resulted in the total abolition of monarchy. Specifically, future monarchs became wary of pushing Parliament too hard, and Parliament effectively chose the line of royal 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

In the early decades of the 20th century the Whig school was the dominant theoretical view. They explained the Civil War as resulting from a centuries-long struggle between Parliament (especially the House of Commons) and the Monarchy, with Parliament defending the traditional rights of Englishmen, while the Stuart monarchy continually attempted to expand its right to arbitrarily dictate law. The most important Whig historian, S.R. Gardiner, popularized the English Civil War as a 'Puritan Revolution': challenging the repressive Stuart Church, and preparing the way for religious toleration in the Restoration. Thus, Puritanism was the natural ally of a people preserving their traditional rights against arbitrary monarchical power.

The Whig view was challenged and largely superseded by the Marxist school, which became popular in the 1940s, and which interpreted the English Civil War as a bourgeois revolution. According to Marxist historian Christopher Hill:

"The Civil War was a class war, wherein on the side of reaction stood the landed aristocracy and its ally, the established Church, and on the other side stood 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 . . . In English history, the Civil War occurred when the wealthy middle class, already socially powerful, had eliminated the outmoded medieval system of English government. Moreover, like the Whigs, the Marxists found a role for religion: as a moral system, Puritanism ideally suited the bourgeois class, so Marxists identified Puritans as inherently bourgeois."

In the 1970s, a new generation of historians, who would become known as Revisionists challenged both the Whig and the Marxist theories. In 1973, a group of revisionist historians published the anthology The Origins of the English Civil War ( Conrad Russell ed.). These historians disliked both Whig and Marxist explanations of the Civil War as long-term socio-economic trends in English society, producing work focused on the minutiae of the years immediately preceding the civil war, thereby returning to the contingency-based historiography of Clarendon's famous contemporary history History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, which demonstrated that factional war-allegiance patterns did not fit either Whig or Marxist history. Puritans, for example, did not necessarily ally themselves with Parliamentarians, nor did they identify as bourgeois. On the other hand, many bourgeois fought for the King, whereas many landed aristocrats supported Parliament. Thus, revisionist historians have discredited much of Whig and Marxist English Civil War interpretation.

Jane Ohlmeyer discarded and replaced the historical title "English Civil War" with the titles the "Wars of the Three" and the "British Civil Wars", positing that the civil war in England cannot be understood isolated from events in other parts of Great Britain and Ireland; King Charles I remains crucial, not just as King of England, but also because of his relationship with the peoples of his other realms. For example, the wars began when King Charles I tried imposing an Anglican Prayer Book upon Scotland, and when this was met with resistance from the Covenanters, he needed an army to impose his will. However, this forced him to call an English Parliament to raise new taxes to pay for the army. The English Parliaments were not willing to grant Charles the revenue he needed to pay for the Scottish expeditionary army unless he addressed their grievances. By the early 1640s, Charles was left in a state of near permanent crisis management; often he was not willing to concede enough ground to any one faction to neutralise the threat, and in some circumstances to do so would only antagonise another faction. For example, Charles finally agreed upon terms with the Covenanters in August 1641, but although this might have weakened the position of the English Parliament, the Irish Rebellion of 1641 broke out in October 1641, largely negating the political advantage he had obtained by relieving himself of the cost of the Scottish invasion.


historical civil war re-enactment.

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.

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