English Civil War 1642-1651

Battle of Marston Moor

Battle of Marston Moor 1644

The English Civil War

Roughly, the Parliamentary side (Roundheads) consisted of the middle-class traders; the kings of the nobility and the peasants. The Irish Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians were possible allies of either side. Parliament was supported by the country roughly east of a line from Hull to Plymouth and most of the large towns where trade was carried on. King Charles I by the north (Cavaliers), then a country district with a small population, and the west. Parliament was in possession of greater financial resources, though this was offset to a certain extent by the Royalist cavalry, an important factor in the wars of those times.

The Civil War was chiefly a religious and partly a political war. It was a case of the Anglicans against the Puritans, and the government of the king against the government of Parliament. But even the political issue was largely a religious question, as it arose from belief and disbelief in the 'divine right of kings'. Charles started the war by marching south from the midlands, the Earl of Essex tried to stop him at Edgehill and, after an indecisive battle, the king pushed on to Oxford which he made his headquarters.

In 1643 the king's generals had conquered the north and west, and Parliament, seeing no chance of immediate victory, enlisted the help of the Scots by the 'Solemn League and Covenant'. By this they promised to make England Presbyterian in return for help against the king. Charles sent his nephew, Prince Rupert, to stop them coming south. Both armies met at Marston Moor where the Royalists, in spite of a magnificent cavalry charge by Rupert, were defeated by the Puritans under Cromwell, who had proved himself the best soldier on the Parliamentary side.

Cromwell persuaded Parliament to reorganise the army, which was known as the 'New Model'. Pay and discipline were improved, and by the 'Self-Denying Ordnance' all members of Parliament had to resign their army posts. This meant that incompetent generals like Essex were replaced by more efficient men. Sir Thomas Fairfax became the new commander-in-chief.

The New Model Army met the king at Naseby, where the Royalist forces were routed. In 1646 the king gave himself up to the Scots who, in turn, handed him over to the English on finding that he would not introduce Presbyterianism into England.

There was now a quarrel within the Parliamentary party between the 'Independents' and the Presbyterians. The Independents disliked the narrowness of the latter and wanted a freer form of religion; they belonged chiefly to the army and the Presbyterians to Parliament. Cromwell soon won the day for the Independents, and with what was left of Parliament (known as the Rump) a High Court of Justice was set up to try the king. He was sentenced to death and beheaded in 1649. The country was declared a Republic or Commonwealth, to be ruled by the House of Commons only without a king or House of Lords.

At this time there were two controlling forces in the country - the army and the Rump government. The Rump was the remnant of the Long Parliament, now purged of the Royalists and Presbyterians. It was unpopular in the country because it closed the theatres - which the Puritans considered immoral - and suppressed the people's amusements generally. It was unable to lighten the taxation owing to the necessity for keeping a strong army and navy, and it was in no way representative of the country for it refused to dissolve itself and hold an election, fearing that a freely-elected Parliament would abolish the new constitution. In spite of a few reforms the rule of the Rump was thoroughly unsatisfactory. The army, therefore, powerful as it was already, was soon to become the real ruler of the country, with Cromwell at its head.

Many people look upon Cromwell as being one of the greatest Englishmen who has ever lived, but to form any judgment of a man it is necessary to decide by what standard the man is to be judged - whether by his personal character or by his lasting achievements.

Cromwell was the son of a country squire and a man who loved the country and zealously attended church even in the worst of weather. He was a Puritan with the simple unaffected outlook of his sect, hating pomp and show and living a quiet, orderly life. When the Civil War broke out he threw himself wholeheartedly into the Parliamentary cause, feeling that 'God had raised him up to do so', and it was largely due to his energy and efficiency that Parliament proved successful.

While he ruled the country during the Commonwealth he struggled to the best of his ability to do so constitutionally, but he failed because his position had come to him by force, and by force he had to rule. He never succeeded in reconciling the country to his harsh rule, but he died an honest, God-fearing, sincere man, who had devoted his life to a cause he believed to be right.

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