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The English Civil War

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The English Civil War

How did the English get caught up in a civil war that resulted in the killing of their king and the abolishment of the monarchy from 1649 to 1660? The English Civil War was a struggle between King Charles I and Parliament over government control. Charles I wished to rule alone without interference from Parliament, but Parliament viewed this kind of self-rule as abusive to their rights and liberties. Religion also played a significant role. But what caused the revolt that ended with the king's execution and a commonwealth government?

The English Civil War, Charles I and his War Council, StudySmarter

The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill by Charles Landseer, 1845. King Charles I is in the center with a blue sash. Source: Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Google Art Project.

Defining the English Civil War

King Charles I (r. 1625-1649) believed that a king was divinely appointed by God and should rule his kingdom absolutely–which is a type of government defined as absolutism. However, since the Magna Carta, the English believed the people had rights to their person and property above the rule of any king–this is what we call constitutionalism. This difference in opinion resulted in tensions between the King and Parliament, and Charles refused to call any more parliaments after 1629. He was determined to rule on his own and did until 1637.

Charles wanted to bring religious uniformity to his three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. However, he chose the Church of England as his model. As a result, the Scots revolted when he tried to force a new prayer book on Scotland in 1637. Many English also opposed Charles' religious reform because they thought it resembled Catholicism, which they hated and feared.

The English Civil War Begins

When Charles finally turned to Parliament in 1640 for military funds, they responded that the threat to their liberties was more pressing than the Scottish revolt. In retaliation, he tried to have five leading members of Parliament arrested but failed. Finally, in 1642, Charles left London to raise an army to fight Parliament, and Parliament created their own New Model Army. Civil war erupted.

The English Civil War, the United Kingdoms of England Ireland and Scotland personified by the king charles I, StudySmarter

Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck, 1635. The three images of the king represent his three kingdoms: England, Ireland, and Scotland. Source: UK Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, RCIN 404420.

Absolutism vs. Constitutionalism

Absolutism is a government structure where the monarch argues that their right to rule comes from God because he is God's appointee on earth. Therefore, the monarch is above any other law because of this divine connection.

On the other hand, constitutionalism limits the government through a written set of laws or constitutions. Enacted in 1215 and reconfirmed numerous times until the Tudor era ended, the Magna Carta was considered a constitution. After the English Civil War, Parliament used the Magna Carta to establish a constitutionalist government.

Causes of the English Civil War

There were many potential causes for the outbreak of civil war, and historians have debated these causes since the war ended. Three prominent schools of history surrounding this topic include the Marxists, the Revisionists, and the Post-Revisionists.

A Marxist Interpretation of the English Civil War

The Marxists, chief among them Christopher Hill, believed that the English Civil War was a class struggle between the elite nobility and a rising lower class. He championed Oliver Cromwell as a revolutionary hero against a despotic King Charles I. Other Marxists believed that strained economic circumstances due to England's role in the Thirty Years War.

A Revisionist Interpretation of the English Civil War

The revisionists are less united than the Marxists, but they all agree that the English Civil War was not part of a steady march towards progress. For example, Conrad Russell, a prominent revisionist, believed that the Civil War's causes were not in England alone but also in Scotland and Ireland. According to Russell, Charles tried to govern his three kingdoms as a single body, but they differed in politics and religion, so everything fell into chaos.

A Post-Revisionist Interpretation of the English Civil War

Post-Revisionism is another school without much agreement but primarily challenges the reliance of "great men" to tell the story of the Civil War's causes. Post-Revisionists like Ann Hughes incorporate new ways of looking at the conflict, for example, through gender studies. She argued that the Civil War had no long-term causes but instead resulted from "conflicting views of religion, politics, and culture." 1 She states that the common people had just as much impact on events as the elites.

Significant Battles of the English Civil War

Royalist Win
Parliament Win
Battle of Braddock Down, January 19, 1643. Secured the northern county of Cornwall for King Charles.
Battle of Newbury, September 20, 1643. Charles withdrew, leaving the almost conquered New Model Army with the win. The beginning of Charles' decline.
Battle of Stratton, May 16, 1643. Major Royalist victory that resulted in 1700 captured Parliamentarians.
Battle of Marsten Moor, July 2, 1644. Oliver Cromwell secures victory and becomes a war hero.
Storming of Bristol, July 26, 1643. Royalists capture the strategically important town of Bristol.
Battle of Naseby, June 14, 1645. Royalist forces were destroyed, and Parliament's war victory was assured.

The English Civil War, battles, StudySmarter

The Battle of Naseby by Dupuis, 1728. Source: National Army Museum, UK. NAM 1971-02-33-266-1.

Charles surrendered to the Scottish army in 1646 and tried to convince them to fight against the Parliamentarians. However, the Scottish ransomed the king to Parliament in January 1647. Meanwhile, petitions from the New Model Army to Parliament for back pay resulted in the petitioners' arrest and orders to disband. In response, the army organized against Parliament and seized the king in June 1647. Army generals such as Oliver Cromwell took over control of Parliament.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

Oliver Cromwell was a member of Parliament and a general in the New Model Army. He was staunchly Puritan (a religious sect that did not conform to the Church of England) and believed God directed his actions in war and statecraft. His charisma and military effectiveness made him a powerful political player on behalf of the New Model Army. His ability to inspire and direct the populace led to his nomination as Lord Protector of the new Commonwealth of England, which he accepted in 1653.

Charles refused all attempts to negotiate a settlement between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. Finally, in 1649, the Army-controlled Parliament under Cromwell put Charles I on trial for high treason. The king was executed on January 30, 1649.

The English Civil War, Charles I's beheading, StudySmarter

The Execution of Charles I, unknown artist, 1649. Source: National Portrait Gallery, UK, NPG D1306.

Effects of the Civil War

  • Parliament abolished the English monarchy and established the Commonwealth of England in its place under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
  • Charles' family, including his heir, the future King Charles II, fled to exile in France.
  • Not all agreed with the new government. The Scottish refused to recognize the Commonwealth and declared Charles II king, leading to another civil war with a Parliament victory in 1652.

The English Civil War, Oil painting of Cromwell, StudySmarter

Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, artist unknown, c. 1653. Source: National Army Museum, UK, NAM 1988-11-1-1.

Restoration and Glorious Revolution

The Commonwealth fell apart after Cromwell died in 1658. Parliament then invited Charles II to return to England as king in 1660, marking the Restoration period. However, when Charles II died in 1685, his Catholic brother, James II, became king. Catholic fear combined with James' desire to rule in a more absolutist fashion brought memories of the Civil War back to the surface. This unrest led to the Glorious Revolution in 1688, which replaced James II with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary II and William III, under a constitutional monarchy.

The English Civil War - Key takeaways

  • The English Civil War was a struggle between King Charles I's faction, the Royalists, and Parliament for government control.
  • The war's causes are hotly debated, but modern historians agree that blame lay on both sides and that many factors contributed to the outbreak of war.
  • The effects of the war included the execution of King Charles I, the establishment of a Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell, and the exile of the royal family.

References

1. Ann Hughes, Causes of the English Civil War, 1991

Frequently Asked Questions about The English Civil War

The English Civil War was a fight for government control between King Charles I and Parliament. It resulted in the execution of the king, the exile of his son and heir, and the establishment of a commonwealth government that lasted 11 years.

There are multiple causes for the English Civil War, and historians have hotly debated the subject. Some causes include:

  • A power struggle between the king and Parliament for total government control.
  • Charles I's attempt to force Anglican religious practices on his three kingdoms: England, Scotland, and Ireland.
  • Conflicting views of religion, politics, and culture within each of the three kingdoms.

There are multiple causes for the English Civil War, and historians have hotly debated the subject. Some causes include:

  • A power struggle between the king and Parliament for total government control.
  • Charles I's attempt to force Anglican religious practices on his three kingdoms: England, Scotland, and Ireland.
  • Conflicting views of religion, politics, and culture within each of the three kingdoms.

The Civil War began when King Charles I and the British Parliament divided over Charles' attempts to rule by himself without Parliament and standardize religious practices across England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The English Civil War ended after Parliament executed King Charles I and set up a new commonwealth government under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Final The English Civil War Quiz

Question

Who was the king during the English Civil War?

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Answer

Charles I

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Question

What type of government did the king wish to have in England?

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Answer

Absolutist

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What type of government did Parliament want to have in England?

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Answer

Constitutionalist

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What year was Charles I executed?

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Answer

1649

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Who was named Lord Protector in 1653?

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Answer

Oliver Cromwell

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What government did England adopt in 1650?

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Answer

Commonwealth

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What battle was NOT a Parliamentarian victory?

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Answer

Battle of Stratton

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What was the New Model Army

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Answer

An army put together by Parliament who in 1647 organized against them and seized control of the government.

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What was the Magna Carta?

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Answer

A constitution written in 1215, the basis of the Commonwealth government in 1650.

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What was NOT an effect of the English Civil War?

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The Treaty of Versailles

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Who did Parliament call back to England to return as King?

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Charles II

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What year did the Stuart Restoration begin?

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1660

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What year did the Stuart Restoration period end?

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1688

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Which was NOT a Restoration colony?

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Answer

Virginia

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Which was NOT included in the group of laws known as the Clarendon Code?

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Answer

The Sedition Act (1661)

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What religion did James, Duke of York, convert to that caused outrage in Parliament?

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Answer

Catholicism

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What was the Popish Plot?

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A fabricated story of a Catholic plot to poison Charles II that sparked panic and led to many executions of Catholics.

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Who became king after Charles II died in 1685?

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James II

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What were the main reasons the Stuart Restoration did not last?

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Answer

The King and Parliament could not agree how to divide government power between them, nor whether to allow religious toleration.

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What happened during the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

King William III and Mary II replaced King James II in a constitutional monarchy that gave most of the governing power to Parliament.

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Which King signed the Petition of Right?

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James I

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____ is the belief that God chose the king and gave him the right to rule.

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Divine Right

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____ were rulers who were able to rule on their own without having to get approval from anyone 

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Absolute Monarchs

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The king could raise taxes without Parliament's approval.

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True

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What year was the Petition of Right signed?

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1628

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Why was false imprisonment added to the Petition of Right?

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Answer

The Five Knights were falsely imprisoned 

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Which clause from the Magna Carta influenced the Petition of Right?

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Answer

Clause 39

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Which of the following was not a principle of the Petition of Right?

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The King could not raise money without Parliament

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How long did Charles go without calling a Parliament?

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Eleven Years

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Who was the only king in English history to be executed?

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Charles I

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When did the Commonwealth of England begin?

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1649

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When did the Commonwealth of England end?

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1660

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Who was named Lord Protector in 1653?

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Oliver Cromwell

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What was the first written English constitution called?

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Answer

Instruments of Government

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What was NOT a branch of government in the Instruments of Government?

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New Model Army

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The Commonwealth of England and the British Commonwealth are the same

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Answer

False

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Why did the English Commonwealth Fail?

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Oliver Cromwell's successor Richard Cromwell could neither control the army nor inspire confidence in Parliament

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What replaced the Commonwealth of England in 1660?

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The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy

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What was NOT one the primary features of the early Commonwealth?

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Answer

Persecution of radical religious groups

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Question

When did Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate period begin?

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Answer

1653

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