The English Civil Wars:
Return


The First English Civil War:

In early January 1642, a few days after his failure to capture five members of the House of Commons, fearing for his own personal safety and for that of his family and retinue, Charles left the London area.

Further negotiations by frequent correspondence between the King and the Long Parliament through to early summer proved fruitless.

As the summer progressed, cities and towns declared their sympathies for one faction or the other, in one case the garrison of Portsmouth under the command of Sir George Goring declared for the King and in another when Charles tried to acquire arms for his cause from Kingston upon Hull, the depository for the weapons used in the previous Scottish campaigns, Sir John Hotham, the military governor appointed by Parliament in January, initially refused to let Charles enter Hull and when Charles returned with more men, drove them off; Charles issued a warrant for Hotham to be arrested as a traitor but was powerless to enforce it.

At the outset of the conflict, much of the country remained neutral, though the Royal Navy and most English cities favoured Parliament, while the King found considerable support in rural communities; throughout the summer months, tensions rose and there was brawling in a number of places, with the first death of the conflict taking place in Manchester.

It is estimated that at the start both sides had only about 15,000 men; however, the war quickly spread and eventually involved every level of society; many areas attempted to remain neutral, some formed bands of Clubmen to protect their localities against the worst excesses of the armies of both sides, but most found it impossible to withstand both the King and Parliament; on one side, the King and his supporters thought that they fought for traditional government in Church and state; on the other, most supporters of the Parliamentary cause initially took up arms to defend what they thought of as the traditional balance of government in Church and state, which the bad advice the King had received from his advisers had undermined before and during the 'Eleven Years' Tyranny'.

After the debacle at Hull, Charles moved on to Nottingham, where on the 22nd August 1642, he raised the royal standard; when he raised his standard, Charles had with him about 2,000 cavalry and a small number of Yorkshire infantry men and using the archaic system of a Commission of Array, Charles' supporters started to build a larger army around the standard; Charles moved in a south westerly direction, first to Stafford, and then on to Shrewsbury, because the support for his cause seemed particularly strong in the Severn valley area and in North Wales; while passing through Wellington, in what became known as the 'Wellington Declaration', he declared that he would uphold the 'Protestant religion, the laws of England, and the liberty of Parliament.

Parliamentary Actions:

The Parliamentarians who opposed the King had not remained passive during this pre war period; as in the case of Kingston upon Hull they had taken measures to secure strategic towns and cities, by appointing men sympathetic to their cause and on the 9th June they had voted to raise an army of 10,000 volunteers, appointing Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex commander three days later; he received orders to capture the king, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York; the Lords Lieutenant, whom Parliament appointed, used the Militia Ordinance to order the militia to join Essex's army.

Two weeks after the King had raised his standard at Nottingham, Essex led his army north towards Northampton, picking up support along the way, which included a detachment of Cambridgeshire cavalry raised and commanded by Oliver Cromwell; by the middle of September Essex's forces had grown to 21,000 infantry and 4200 cavalry and dragoons; on the 14th September he moved his army to Coventry and then to the north of the Cotswolds, a strategy which placed his army between the Royalists and London.

The First Major Skirmish:

With the size of both armies now in the tens of thousands and only Worcestershire between them, it was inevitable that cavalry reconnaissance units would sooner or later meet; this happened in the first major skirmish of the Civil War, when a cavalry troop of about 1,000 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert, a German nephew of the King and one of the outstanding cavalry commanders of the war, defeated a Parliamentary cavalry detachment under the command of Colonel John Brown in the Battle of Powick Bridge, at a bridge across the River Teme close to Worcester.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine:

Rupert withdrew to Shrewsbury, where a council of war discussed two courses of action, whether to advance towards Essex's new position near Worcester, or to march along the now opened road towards London; the Council decided to take the London route, but not to avoid a battle, for the Royalist generals wanted to fight Essex before he grew too strong and the temper of both sides made it impossible to postpone the decision.

In the Earl of Clarendon's words; "it was considered more counsellable to march towards London, it being morally sure that Essex would put himself in their way"; accordingly, the army left Shrewsbury on the 12th October, gaining two days' start on the enemy and moved south east; this had the desired effect, as it forced Essex to move to intercept them.

The First Battle of the War:

The first pitched battle of the war, fought at Edgehill on the 23rd October 1642, proved inconclusive and both the Royalists and Parliamentarians claimed it as a victory; the second field action of the war, the stand off at Turnham Green, saw Charles forced to withdraw to Oxford; this city would serve as his base for the remainder of the war.

In 1643 the Royalist forces won at Adwalton Moor and gained control of most of Yorkshire; in the Midlands, a Parliamentary force under Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet besieged and captured the cathedral city of Lichfield; this group subsequently joined forces with Sir John Brereton to fight the inconclusive Battle of Hopton Heath on the 19th March 1643, where the Royalist commander, the Earl of Northampton, was killed; subsequent battles in the west of England at Lansdowne and at Roundway Down also went to the Royalists; Prince Rupert could then take Bristol; in the same year, Oliver Cromwell formed his troop of "Ironsides", a disciplined unit that demonstrated his military leadership ability; with their assistance, he won a victory at the Battle of Gainsborough in July.

The Turning Point:

In general, the early part of the war went well for the Royalists; the turning point came in the late summer and early autumn of 1643, when the Earl of Essex's army forced the king to raise the siege of Gloucester and then brushed the Royalist army aside at the First Battle of Newbury on the 20th September 1643, in order to return triumphantly to London.

The Battle of Marston Moor:

Other Parliamentarian forces won the Battle of Winceby, giving them control of Lincoln; political manoeuvering to gain an advantage in numbers led Charles to negotiate a ceasefire in Ireland, freeing up English troops to fight on the Royalist side in England, while Parliament offered concessions to the Scots in return for aid and assistance; with the help of the Scots, Parliament won at Marston Moor on the 2nd July 1644, gaining York and the north of England; Cromwell's conduct in this battle proved decisive and demonstrated his potential as both a political and an important military leader; the defeat at the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, however, marked a serious reverse for Parliament in the south west of England; subsequent fighting around Newbury on the 27th October 1644, though tactically indecisive, strategically gave another check to Parliament.

Oliver Cromwell:

In 1645 Parliament reaffirmed its determination to fight the war to a finish; it passed the Self denying Ordinance, by which all members of either House of Parliament laid down their commands and re organised its main forces into the 'New Model Army' under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Cromwell as his second-in-command and Lieutenant General of Horse; in two decisive engagements, the Battle of Naseby on the 14th June and the Battle of Langport on the 10th July, the Parliamentarians effectively destroyed Charles' armies.

The End of the First English Civil War:

In the remains of his English realm Charles attempted to recover a stable base of support by consolidating the Midlands and began to form an axis between Oxford and Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire; those towns had become fortresses and showed more reliable loyalty to him than to others; he then took Leicester, which lies between them, but exhausted his resources in doing so; by May 1646 he was forced to seek shelter with a Presbyterian Scottish army at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, which led to the Scots handing Charles over to the English Parliament and for imprisonment.

The Second English Civil War:

During his imprisonment, on the 28th December 1647, Charles negotiated a secret treaty with the Scots promising them a church reform; under the agreement, called the 'Engagement', the Scots undertook to invade England on Charles' behalf and restore him to the throne on condition of the establishment of Presbyterianism for three years; following this a series of Royalist uprisings began throughout England, backed with a Scottish invasion which occurred in the summer of 1648.

However, Parliamentary forces put down most of the uprisings in England after little more than skirmishes, but the uprisings in Kent, Essex and Cumberland, the rebellion in Wales, and the Scottish invasion, were a different matter, they involved the fighting of pitched battles and prolonged sieges; Colonel Thomas Horton defeated the Royalist rebels at the Battle of St Fagans on the 8th May; rebel leaders surrendered to Cromwell on the 11th July after the protracted two month siege of Pembroke and Sir Thomas Fairfax defeated a Royalist uprising in Kent at the Battle of Maidstone on the 1st June; Fairfax, after his success at Maidstone and the pacification of Kent, turned northward to reduce Essex, where, under their ardent, experienced and popular leader Sir Charles Lucas, the Royalists had taken up arms in great numbers; Fairfax soon drove the enemy into Colchester, but his first attack on the town met with a repulse and he had to settle down to a long siege.

In the North of England, Major General John Lambert fought a very successful campaign against a number of Royalist uprisings, the largest being that of Sir Marmaduke Langdale in Cumberland; thanks to Lambert's successes, the Scottish commander, the Duke of Hamilton, had perforce to take the western route through Carlisle in his pro Royalist Scottish invasion of England; the Parliamentarians under Cromwell engaged the Scots at the Battle of Preston on around the 18th August; the battle took place largely at Walton-le-Dale near Preston in Lancashire and resulted in a victory by Cromwell's troops over the Royalists and Scots commanded by Hamilton.

The End of the Second English Civil War:

Nearly all the Royalists who had fought in the First Civil War had been given their parole by promising not to bear arms against the Parliament again and many honourable Royalists, like Lord Astley, refused to break their word by taking any part in the second war; so the victors in the Second Civil War showed little mercy to any of those who had brought war into the land again.

On the evening of the surrender of Colchester, Parliamentarians had Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle shot; Parliamentary authorities sentenced the leaders of the Welsh rebels, Major General Rowland Laugharne, Colonel John Poyer and Colonel Rice Powel to death, but executed Poyer alone on the 25th April 1649, having selected him by lot; of five prominent Royalist peers who had fallen into the hands of Parliament, three, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Holland and Lord Capel, one of the Colchester prisoners and a man of high character, were beheaded at Westminster on the 9th March 1649.

The Trial of Charles I for Treason:

Charles I was the first of our monarchs to be put on trial for treason and it led to his execution; this event is one of the most infamous in England's history and one of the most controversial; no law could be found in England’s history that dealt with the trial of a monarch so the order setting up the court that was to try Charles was written by a Dutch lawyer called Issac Dorislaus and he based his work on an ancient Roman law which stated that a military body, in this case the government, could legally overthrow a tyrant; the execution of Charles, led to an eleven year gap in the rule of the Stuarts, from 1649 to 1660 and it witnessed the rise to supreme power of Oliver Cromwell, whose signature can clearly be seen on the death warrant of Charles I.

The betrayal by Charles caused Parliament to debate whether or not to return the King to power at all; those who still supported Charles' place on the throne tried once more to negotiate with him, but furious that Parliament continued to countenance Charles as a ruler, the Army marched on Parliament and conducted 'Pride's Purge', named after the commanding officer of the operation, Thomas Pride, and in December 1648, troops arrested 45 Members of Parliament and kept 146 out of the chamber; they allowed only 75 Members in and then only at the Army's bidding.

The only people allowed into Parliament were those who Cromwell thought supported the trial of the king; this Parliament was known as the 'Rump Parliament' and of the 46 men allowed in, who were considered to be supporters of Cromwell, only 26 voted to try the king; therefore even among those MP's considered loyal to Cromwell, there was no clear support to try Charles.

The Chief Judge was a man called John Bradshaw, who sat as head of the High Court of Justice; he was not one of the original 135 judges, but seeing as none of the 68 that did turn up wanted to be Chief Judge, the job was given to Bradshaw, who was a lawyer; he knew that putting Charles on trial was not popular and he actually feared for his own life; he had a special hat made for himself, which had metal inside it to protect his head against an attack.

It was Bradshaw who read out the charge against Charles, that he 'Charles I', "out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people of England."; the hall where the king was tried was packed with soldiers, to protect the judges, or to make sure that the king did not escape; the public was not allowed into the hall until after the charge had been read out.

At the trial, Charles refused to defend himself; he did not recognise the legality of the court; he also refused to take off his hat as a sign of respect to the judges who did attend; this seemed to confirm in the minds of the judges that Charles, even when he was on trial for his life, remained arrogant and therefore a danger to others as he could not recognise his own faults.

Bradshaw announced the judgment of the court : that "he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body."; when the judgment of the court was announced, Charles finally started to defend himself; he was told that his chance had gone and the king of England was bundled out of the court by the guarding soldiers; his date of execution had been set for the 30th January 1649.

The Execution of Charles I:

Charles was executed on a cold Tuesday, his beheading took place on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall; he was allowed to go for a last walk in St James’s park with his pet dog and his last meal was bread and wine; there was an unexpected delay however, in his execution; the man who was to execute Charles refused to do it, so did others, but another man and his assistant were found, who were paid £100 and were allowed to wear masks so that no one would ever know who they were.

At nearly 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon, Charles was led to the scaffold which was covered in black cloth; he had asked to wear thick underclothes under his shirt as he was very concerned that if he shivered in the cold, the crowd might think that he was scared; Charles gave a last speech to the crowd but very few could hear him; he said: "I have delivered to my conscience; I pray God you do take those courses that are best for the good of the kingdom and your own salvation."; it is said that when he was beheaded a large groan went up throughout the crowd; one observer in the crowd described it as "such a groan by the thousands then present, as I never heard before and I desire I may never hear again."

But even in death, Charles found no dignity, spectators were allowed to go up to the scaffold and, after paying, dip handkerchiefs in his blood as it was felt that the blood of a king when wiped onto a wound, illness etc, would cure that illness.

On the 6th February, 1649, the monarchy was abolished. Parliament stated that "the office of the king in this nation is unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, society and public interest of the people."; what became known as a Council of State was set up instead of the monarchy and Oliver Cromwell was its first chairman.



Go back.