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A History of the English Civil War


The causes of the English Civil Wars are many and varied, perhaps nearly as varied as the men who fought them, for each decided almost for himself on which side he would fight, and his reasons were often different from the man alongside him. If it is true that many fought for Parliament because they feared that the Church of England, under Archbishop Laud, was veering towards Rome, then it is also true that many supported the King because they feared the fanaticism of the Puritans. If there were many who sided with Parliament because they wished for a more democratic England then there must have been just as many in the King's Party who thought that a destruction of the "constitution of England", with its partnership of King AND Parliament, would lead to anarchy.


As you will see elsewhere, the old ideas of the gaudy Cavaliers and the sombre Parliamentarians has long since been discovered to be false - both armies contained their share of Aristocrats, Gentlemen, Merchants, etc. and it would have been extremely difficult for any to tell from a man's attire what party he was for, his appearance varied according to his social standing not his political persuasion.


For those who wish to study the causes of the War more fully then there are a great number of books readily available in Libraries and bookshops which will enable them to do so, but, briefly, the War's outbreak was precipitated by the Constitutional Crisis arising out of the need to raise an Army to subdue the Rebellion in Ireland which had broken out in 1641. Parliament feared that any Army so raised would be used by the King to enforce his will on England as well; the King, in his turn, saw no reason why he should surrender his ancient rights of control of the Armed Forces and refused Royal Assent to the `Militia Act'. In 1642 he left London for York, he was not to return until his Trial and Execution in 1649. The rift had become irreparable and war inevitable.



Both the King and Parliament began to raise forces (the latter in the name of the "King and Parliament") from whatever source they could. There was no regular army in the l7th Century and the only sources of soldiers were the Trayned Bandes (the Stuart equivalent of the Militia) and officers who had served abroad in the Wars in Germany the Netherlands, etc. These two amateur armies, composed mainly of volunteers and officered by country gentlemen where professionals could not be found, stumbled around the Midlands in the autumn of 1642 until they finally met at Edgehill on October 23rd. The Battle proved indecisive and the hopes of a short war were over. After the battle the King made Oxford his wartime capital but an advance on London was turned back at Turnham Green.



The winter of '42/3 saw the War become more rationalised, as well as the `main' armies of the King and Parliament (the latter under the command of the Earl of Essex) new forces arose in the North and in the West, as well as small `local armies' elsewhere. The spring and early summer went, on the whole, the Royalist way; in the West, Hopton cleared Cornwall, Devon and Somerset and on July l3th, Prince Rupert's younger brother, Prince Maurice, finally destroyed Hopton's adversary, Sir William Waller, at Roundway Down. The West was cleared of Parliamentarian troops except for a few cities, which held out. On August 10th, the King's main army sat down to besiege one of them, Gloucester, under its Governor Colonel Edward Massey. (Which, incidentally, gives us the nursery rhyme of "Doctor Foster went to Gloucester..."). Meanwhile in the North the Marquis of Newcastle had defeated his Parliamentarian counterpart at Adwalton Moor (June 29th) and began the siege of Hull, a siege which proved to be unsuccessful mainly due to Parliament's command of the Navy, and which had to be abandoned on October 11th.


The Earl of Essex had spent most of the summer around Reading where his Army was stricken with disease, but galvanised into action by Gloucester's plight, and strengthened by a brigade of the London Trayned Bandes, he marched to its relief and forced Charles to raise the siege on September 4th. The King attempted to intercept Essex's return to London and on September 20th the First Battle of Newbury was fought, the result was again fairly indecisive and Essex continued his march.



Parliament had realised that the armies were too evenly matched and in late '43 signed an agreement with the Scots Parliament that the latter should provide an Army to fight in England; the Scots Army crossed the Tweed on January l9th. Against this new threat, and a rejuvenated Fairfax, Newcastle was no match and fell back on York which the allies invested - they were soon joined by a third army under the Earl of Manchester. In Oxford the King despatched Prince Rupert to the relief of York and himself led his main Army out of the City, skilfully evading the forces of Essex and of Waller. On June 29th the King inflicted a sound defeat upon Waller's Army at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge and then set off in pursuit of the Earl of Essex's Army, which was intent on invading Cornwall. Essex was trapped between the King's Army and the Western Royalists and forced to surrender at Lostwithiel, but the prisoners were allowed to go free after being disarmed.


Rupert relieved York on July 1st and the following day his Army and that of the Marquis of Newcastle faced the three combined Parliamentary Armies at Marston Moor. The battle, which with 45,000+ men involved may well have been the largest on British soil, resulted in a complete victory for the Allied Armies and the North was lost to the King as the Scots and Lord Fairfax proceeded to methodically reduce the Royalist Garrisons. The King, returning from Cornwall, was faced by the three armies of Manchester, fresh from its victory at Marston Moor, Essex, now re-equipped, and Waller together with another brigade of the London Trayned Bandes at the Second Battle of Newbury on October 27th. Although the fighting was hard the Parliamentarians failed to destroy their opponents and the King returned to Oxford.



Parliament spent the winter of '44/5 overhauling its armies and those of Essex, Manchester and Waller were combined to produce the New Model Army. Its Commander was Sir Thomas Fairfax, whose father had commanded in Yorkshire, and its Lieutenant-General of Horse (effective second-in-command) Oliver Cromwell.


The King began his new year's campaigning by marching northwards in an attempt to defeat the Scots and reconquer the Northern Counties - Fairfax followed and on June l4th the two armies met at Naseby. The King's Army, outnumbered by almost two to one, was completely destroyed.

Fairfax spent the rest of 1645 and most of 1646 subduing Royalist Garrisons and destroying the small Royalist armies, which remained in the field. The last Royal Army was dispersed at Stow-on-the-Wold on March 2lst, 1646 and on May 5th, the King surrendered to the Scots just outside Newark. (The last Royalist garrison, that of Harlech Castle, didn't surrender until March l6th, 1647!)



From his imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, Charles signed an agreement with the Scots that they would support him against their erstwhile allies and so, in the spring of 1648, a number of Royalist risings took place in Wales, Kent and Essex in anticipation of Scots help. Fairfax reacted swiftly and despatched Cromwell to Wales and himself dealt with the Kent rising managing to trap the rebels in Colchester which he besieged. Most of the risings had been crushed by the time that the Scots crossed the border on July 8th. Cromwell, from Wales, was well placed to deal with the invasion and attacked the Scots at Preston on August 17th, the battle took the form of a running engagement but ended with a Scots defeat on the l9th. Colchester, its hope of relief gone, surrendered to Fairfax on August 28th.


The more militant elements in Parliament now excluded their moderate colleagues and put the King on trial for his life. The Court was a sham and its verdict a foregone conclusion - on January 30th, 1649, Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall.



Upon his father's death Charles II was proclaimed as King in Edinburgh but little was actually done until Charles himself arrived in Scotland in the early summer of 1650. Cromwell, commander-in-chief since Fairfax had resigned over the Trial of the King, was already concentrating the English Army at Berwick and in late July invaded Scotland.


The Scots outmanoeuvred Cromwell and trapped him with his back to the sea at Dunbar. He contemplated a seaborne evacuation but then, on September 3rd, launched an unexpected attack and inflicted a sharp defeat on the Scots. He then proceeded to reduce Scotland to the obedience of the English Parliament and to put an Army of Occupation into Scottish Towns and Castles.


The Scots Army had, meanwhile, recovered from its defeat and after rebuilding and re-equipping invaded England on August 6th, 1651. Moving rapidly the Scots, supported by a number of English Royalist sympathisers, occupied Worcester on August 22nd. Cromwell pursued and, after defeating the Earl of Derby at Wigan on August 25th, attacked the Royalists at Worcester on September 3rd. The resultant battle was a disaster for the King and he fled the field in fear of his life (it was during the flight after Worcester that Charles was hidden in an oak tree to avoid his would-be captors). Charles fled to France and was to remain him exile until the anarchy, which followed Cromwell's death in 1658 caused Englishmen to call for a return of the King and stable government. Charles II landed at Dover, an acknowledged King, on May 25th, 1660.


Article contributed by Steve Rabbitts


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