English Civil Wars Essay, Research Paper
The eruption of the English Civil War in 1642 was the culminating result of political conflict coupled with nationalistic resentment of the English Crown and Parliament towards each other and the various powers each exercised. The English Revolution was initiated by King Charles I with the calling of Long Parliament and proceeded through two civil wars, the trial and execution of a king, the republican experiments of Oliver Cromwell, and eventually the restoration of King Charles II. While many events contributed to the English Revolution, it is fair to say that no one event is solely responsible for its existence. Though not entirely a spiritual conflict, the English revolution marks the first of the so-called great revolutions. Religion, while definitely making its presence felt prior to and during the English Civil War, is only one of many aspects that had a direct impact upon the creation and direction of the war. To some degree, the English Civil War seemed to reflect England s resentment toward its former Scottish Kings, James and Charles. This struggle for the constitution could be seen as either a conflict of ideologies, absolutism versus constitutionalism, or as a struggle for power between rival institutions, monarchy and parliament, competing for the position of ultimate authority in the English state. The question of sovereignty in the English State and Puritans in the Church were the problems that seemed paramount during this time.
At its earliest roots, the English Civil War can be traced back many years before its actual occurrence. Because the English Crown was left without an heir after the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland ascends the English throne, becoming King James I. Many Parliament members resented the fact that a Scottish King has now become their king. James was an absolute ruler and a believer in divine right. Because of his autocratic behavior, James frequently offended Parliament. Despite these various offenses, James managed to avoid any serious confrontation with Parliament. The problems that existed between the Parliament and the king were postponed to the next king. After James death in 1625, his son Charles succeeded him as king.
Charles was every bit as arbitrary and autocratic as king than his father. At court, Charles began to rely heavily on French advisors, which only worsened his relationship with Parliament. Charles had also engaged in a failed and expensive war with Spain. Parliament eventually developed a large number of grievances against King Charles. Charles called parliament in 1625. They confronted the king with their list of grievances but the king became so outraged by their attempt he waited eleven years before calling Parliament again. In the absence of parliaments the royal court was, as always, the center of official political activity. This latent period of time for parliament later became known as the Long Parliament.
Much of the problem between the King and Parliament centered on religion. Charles was rumored to be catholic, which held little favor with Parliament. On of the chief religious issues concerned the Book of Common Prayer, a book of prayers recognized by the Anglican Church as the only one legal. The Puritans lead the criticism of this level of state control over religious practice. Another chief issue was the fact that only Anglicans were allowed to hold government office. Charles was determined to impose the Anglican liturgy in Scotland. This sparked open rebellion by the Scots. In 1639, the Scots formed an army and invaded England.
Forced to deal with the Scottish revolt while simultaneously fighting a war with Spain, Charles knew he had no choice but to turn to Parliament for financial help. Out of sheer desperation, Charles called Parliament in 1640. The Parliament Charles called in England to finance this 1640 campaign was a political disaster. After eleven years, Parliament demanded reform in return for aid. They knew they had Charles in a prime negotiating position. Parliament arrested and ultimately executed for treason the king s chief advisors, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury. It also put limits on the king s prerogatives. The members spilt over the Root and Branch Bill to abolish bishops in the Anglican Church, over raising an army to squash an Irish rebellion, and over the Grand Remonstrance, by which Parliament would control the choice of the king s ministers. This political quarrel became an armed conflict in 1642.
In August 1642, Charles gathered his army at Nottingham. The king s soldiers were known as Cavaliers. The members of Parliament s Army were called Roundheads. The first battle between the king s army and parliaments came at Edgehill. The winner of this battle was unclear. It was clear that the king controlled the northwest of England and Parliament controlled the southeast, including London. In 1643, Parliament secured the support of the Scottish Army by promising that the recently convened Westminster Assembly would make the Anglican Church conform to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
During this time period, Oliver Cromwell, an outspoken leader of Parliament and a military genius, emerged as a key leader of the Parliament s Army. He would soon become its unquestionable leader, earning him the nickname of Ironsides. The war waged by both sides proved to be a great struggle, having mostly equaled sides. Lead by Cromwell, Parliament s Army won a number of critical battles including Marson Moor and Naseby. The first civil war ended in May of 1646 when Charles surrendered to the Scottish Army. The Scots subsequently turned the king over to Parliament.
Charles rejected Parliament s conditions for his return to power. His livid rejection for their plan aggravated the divisions that constituted Parliament. Charles managed to escape to Scotland, later striking a deal with the Scottish, convincing them to become his allies. The Scots pledged to restore him to the throne if he promised to make Presbyterianism the official religion of both kingdoms.
The second civil war took place in 1648, with Parliament and the army fighting against Scotland and the king. Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament Roundheads defeated the Scottish Army at the battle of Preston. The royalist opposition was soon completely repressed. The army was now firmly in control of England and it began to purge Parliament of its Presbyterian members. King Charles was captured and later tried for treason. Charles was found guilty of treason by Parliament and executed on January 30, 1649. After Charles execution, Parliament abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, and declared England to be a Commonwealth. Charles death deeply affected the people of England and made the creation of a stable government more difficult.
A Great task for the new government was to repel the Irish and Scottish rebellion. The Scottish rebellion began as a response to Charles execution. The Scots denounced the king s execution and named his son, Charles II, as his successor. Cromwell and his army managed to subdue the Scots in the battles at Dunbar and Worcester. Ireland and Scotland would later annexed to become part of the English Commonwealth. The power to establish a permanent and settled government resided in Cromwell and the army. In 1653, Cromwell lost his patience with Parliament, subsequently dismissing them. Later, Cromwell accepted the instrument of Government, and a written constitution, which created a protectorate positioning himself as Lord Protector and establishing a one-house Parliament. The will of Cromwell and the force of the New Model Army held things together in England over the next few years.
Oliver Cromwell died on September 3, 1658. He was briefly succeeded by his son Richard. Richard proved to be a very weak and ineffective leader. All his generals defected and his support vanished within a year. General George Monck, commander of the army in Scotland, halted the direction of England toward anarchy. He marched into London with his troops and recalled the Long Parliament, which later restored Charles II to the English Crown.
The English Revolution began as a protest against an oppressive and uncompressing government. A moderate constitutional phase was followed by the use of military force, then the violent overthrow of the government, experiments with new institutions, the rule of a virtual dictator, and finally, a restoration that embodied some new practices within the older tradition. It was important because it generated new political and religious ideas and because it extended the English tradition that the government s power should be limited.
Carlin, Norah. The Causes of the English Civil War. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, UK, 1999.