Monday, 16 October 2017

The Civil War: radicalism

Title page of Thomas Edwards'
Public domain

The cost of war

The Civil War caused immense suffering. At any given moment in the summers of 1643, 1644 and 1645 between 120,000 and 140,000 adult males (roughly one in eight out of a population of c. five million) were in arms in England. It has been estimated that c. 62,000 died in England and Wales in the First Civil War, either on the battlefield or later.  War-related diseases, such as typhus and dysentery, carried off at least 100,000. 

In England the Midlands and the Welsh borders were the worst affected areas. There was no serious military action east of a line through King’s Lynn, Cambridge, London, and Arundel, though all parts of the country suffered from high taxation. One in ten inhabitants of provincial cities and towns were made homeless. The cultural losses at Lichfield and Ely cathedrals were irreparable. 

Religious radicalism

Between 1643 and 1646 Parliament overturned the existing Church of England, abolished episcopacy, cathedrals, church courts, the prayer book, and Christmas and Easter. These measures coincided with renewed iconoclasm. 

In place of the old Church, Parliament tried to establish a Presbyterian Church modelled on the Scottish kirk. A new service book, the Directory for Public Worship, was established. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Civil War: the victory of Parliament

Representation by an unknown artist of the
parliamentary victory at Naseby, 14 June 1645
Public domain

1643: was anyone winning?

By the end of 1643 it looked as if the war was being fought to a stalemate, with neither side delivering a knock-out blow. If anything, the psychological advantage lay with the king: Parliament had to win, he had only to fight for a draw. Parliamentary leaders like the earls of Essex and Manchester, the commander of the Eastern Association, believed that in the end there would have to be a negotiated settlement with the king.

However, in retrospect, it can be seen that three factors favoured Parliament:

  1. Pym’s excise tax was unpopular but successful.
  2. The Scots alliance had added 20,000 soldiers to the parliamentary forces.
  3. The Eastern Association under the earl of Manchester was proving an efficient military force.

The Eastern Association

The most effective of the parliamentary armies was the Eastern Association under Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester.  In January 1644 Manchester he his cavalry commander, Oliver Cromwell, pushed through Parliament a financial ordinance increasing by 50 per cent the monthly assessments levied on the individual counties of the Eastern Association and putting the money in the hands of a committee at Cambridge under Manchester’s control. In February Cromwell was appointed Lieutenant-General of the Association.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Civil War: the first phase, 1642-3

Among the books I have consulted, the following have been especially useful: 
Barry Coward, The Stuart Age. England 1603-1714 (Longman, 2nd edition, 1994)
Royle, Trevor, Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660 (Abacus, 2004)
David L. Smith, A History of the Modern British Isles 1603-1707. The Double Crown (Blackwell, 1998)
Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2002)
John Wroughton, The Longman Companion to the Stuart Age 1603-1714 (Longman, 1997)

The period between 1640 and 1660 is the most momentous in British history. It saw a series of dramatic events, all of them with major constitutional implications:

  1. The creation of the New Model Army and the rise of religious and political radicalism within the Army
  2. The trial and execution of the king and the setting up of a republic (the Commonwealth)
  3. The brutal conquest of Ireland
  4. A series of parliamentary experiments that saw the dissolution of the Long Parliament and the establishment of Cromwell as Lord Protector
  5. The growth of religious dissent in the 1650s.

'Cavaliers and Roundheads'

Both sides applied derogatory terms to the other. ‘Cavalier’ was taken from the Spanish cabelleros and was used to mock the court’s continental ways. ‘Roundhead’ derived from the craze among apprentice boys for cutting their ‘love-locks’. In fact, the leaders of both armies had similar hairstyles. You can't necessarily tell a man's allegiance from his portrait!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Long Parliament and the coming of the Civil War

The Long Parliament in session,
Speaker Lenthall
in the chair

The Long Parliament meets

This Parliament, the longest in English history, met under tense circumstances on 3 November 1640. To put it mildly, it was unusual to have  an English Parliament’s existence been secured by 18,000 troops occupying north-eastern England!  Most of the members had already served in the Short Parliament and were ready for conflict if necessary. The MP Thomas Knyvett wrote, 

‘Now reformation goes on again as hot as toast.’ Quoted in Barry Coward, The Stuart Age (1994), pp. 189-90. 

The strongest ideological drive behind the opposition to the king in the 1640s was religious zeal, as demands for a constitutional parliamentarianism went hand in hand with a craving for 'godly reformation’.  The targets of the opposition were Laud (who had oppressed the Protestants and made the Scots revolt) and Strafford (who had thrust the second war upon them). The aim - to rescue the king from his ‘evil counsellors’ - was highly traditional, going back to the days of King John.  

In November Strafford was impeached for treason and imprisoned. In December Laud was also impeached for and imprisoned, and the Root and Branch Petition for the complete abolition of episcopacy (bishops) was presented to parliament. It claimed to be signed by 15,000 citizens of London, now highly radicalized and potentially dangerous. This was embarrassingly radical, and Pym managed to have the Petition referred to the committee for religion.

Friday, 29 September 2017

The end of the Personal Rule

The Scots revolt

The historian, the earl of Clarendon wrote: 

‘a small, scarce discernible cloud arose in the north, which was shortly after attended with a storm’.

The collapse of the personal rule was brought about by events in Scotland, highlighting Charles’s problems as the monarch of multiple kingdoms. Just as he attempted to impose uniformity on England, so he tried to bring Scottish religious practice in line with England’s. 

James VI had presided over an uneasy compromise in Scotland. Since the Reformation the country had had a Presbyterian rather than an Anglican church structure. In 1610 James had restored bishops, but he allowed the Presbyterian structure to continue at lower levels. His policy was to make Scottish religion more conformable to Anglican norms, but he sensibly did not push the Scots too far.

Charles was more out of touch with Scottish affairs than his father had been. He did not visit Scotland until 1633, and the Scots were deeply hurt by the fact that he had waited for eight years before he was crowned in Scotland. They were also offended that he chose Holyrood rather than the more traditional Scone or Stirling, and that the ceremony was conducted before a raised altar behind which was a tapestry into which was woven a crucifix. 

In 1636 Charles issued a new 'Book of Canons', regulating worship according to the Anglican pattern, based on the English canons of 1604. These were imposed by royal prerogative without consultation. The Scots Privy Council was treated as a rubber stamp and was ordered to command the use of the new prayer book when it was ready in 1637.

Archbishop Laud's
Book of Common Prayer
Public domain

The king's council in Scotland fixed Sunday 28 July for the introduction of the new Prayer Book throughout the country and announced that they themselves would mark the occasion by going in procession to St Giles' for the morning service. But as soon as the dean, Dr Hannah, began the service, the crowd at the back of the church rioted. The demonstration had been premeditated as the principal ministers, gentry, citizens and lords had had three months to consider their strategy. The religious fervour of the population was genuine. Even the ministers willing to use the Book could do so only if their congregations allowed them. Those who tried to defy their congregations faced violence. 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Charles I: the Personal Rule (2)

Laudianism and the Church

It was probably the king’s religious policy that contributed most to his unpopularity. In Church as in State, Charles I pursued a vigorous and authoritarian programme of reform and centralization. 

The key figure in implementing his religious policies was William Laud, bishop of London (1628) and archbishop of Canterbury (1633), a man whose ‘restless spirit’ had been noted by the shrewd James I. We know from Laud’s diary that in 1626 he had been promised the succession to Canterbury, and from this date he came into prominence as the chief religious spokesman of the government.

William Laud by
Sir Anthony van Dyck
Public domain

Laud made no secret of his hostility to Calvinism declaring that the doctrine of predestination ‘makes the God of all mercies to be the most fierce and unreasonable tyrant in the world’.  His views represented a strain of Anglicanism that had existed since the 1590s, which stressed the historic ‘catholic’ nature of the Church of England and put great store by dignified ritual.  He played down the significance of the sermon and advocated instead a greater influence on the sacraments and an enhancement of the status of the clergy. 

By the mid 1630s the Laudians had acquired a virtual monopoly over senior Church offices.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Charles I: The Personal Rule (1)

Charles I, by Sir Anthony
van Dyck (1633)
Public domain

What was the Personal Rule?

The Personal Rule is the name given to the period between the dissolution of Charles's third parliament in 1629 and his calling of what became known as the Short Parliament in 1640.  His eleven-year rule without parliament was legal, but not necessarily wise politically, as without parliament it was difficult for the monarch to assess the feeling in the country at large. 

Charles could survive without having to call parliament as long as the country was not at war. This meant that his foreign policy changed abruptly. In April 1629 he made peace with France, leaving the Huguenots in the lurch, and in November 1630 with Spain. 

While Europe was engaged in the Thirty Years' War, England stayed out of the conflict, even though Charles's sister was involved. 


What’s in a name? Personal rule? Eleven years’ tyranny? A time of discontent? Or a time when, according to the historian, the earl of Clarendon, England enjoyed 'the fullest measure of felicity that it had ever known’.  Many remembered it as a golden age. The treaties with France and Spain removed England from the war that was devastating Europe. There was a run of good harvests and the king and queen were producing a large family. Court masques and court portraiture were powerful propaganda statements for peace and prosperity.