Why Did Parliament Win The English Civil War Essay Prompts

For other uses, see English Civil War (disambiguation).

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's government. The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

The overall outcome of the war was threefold: the trial and execution of Charles I (1649); the exile of his son, Charles II (1651); and the replacement of English monarchy with, at first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653) and then the Protectorate under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) and subsequently his son Richard (1658–1659). The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England ended with the victors consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament's consent, although the idea of Parliament as the ruling power of England was only legally established as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688.


The term "English Civil War" appears most often in the singular form, although historians often divide the conflict into two or three separate wars. These wars were not restricted to England as Wales was a part of the Kingdom of England and was affected accordingly, and the conflicts also involved wars with, and civil wars within, both Scotland and Ireland. The war in all these countries is known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Unlike other civil wars in England, which focused on who should rule, this war was more concerned with the manner in which the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland were governed. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica called the series of conflicts the "Great Rebellion", while some historians – especially Marxists such as Christopher Hill (1912–2003) – have long favoured the term "English Revolution".[4]


The two sides had their geographical strongholds, such that minority elements were silenced or fled. The strongholds of the royalty included the countryside, the shires, and the less economically developed areas of northern and western England. On the other hand, all the cathedral cities (except York, Chester, Worcester and Hereford and the royalist stronghold of Oxford) sided with Parliament. All the industrial centers, the ports, and the economically advanced regions of southern and eastern England typically were parliamentary strongholds. Lacey Baldwin Smith says, "the words populous, rich, and rebellious seemed to go hand in hand".

Strategy and tactics[edit]

Many of the officers and veteran soldiers of the English Civil War studied and implemented war strategies that had been learned and perfected in other wars across Europe, namely by the Spanish and the Dutch during the Dutch war for independence which began in 1568.

The main battle tactic came to be known as pike and shot infantry, in which the two sides would line up, facing each other, with infantry brigades of musketeers in the centre, carrying matchlock muskets; these muskets were inaccurate, but could be lethal at a range of up to 300 yards. The brigades would arrange themselves in lines of musketeers, three deep, where the first row would kneel, the second would crouch, and the third would stand, allowing all three to fire a volley simultaneously.[8] At times there would be two groups of three lines allowing one group to reload while the other group arranged themselves and fired.[page needed] Mixed in among the musketeers were pikemen carrying pikes that were between 12 feet (4 m) and 18 feet (5 m) long, whose primary purpose was to protect the musketeers from cavalry charges. Positioned on each side of the infantry were the cavalry, with a right-wing led by the lieutenant-general, and a left-wing by the commissary general; the main goal of the cavalry was to rout the opponent's cavalry and then turn and overpower their infantry.[8][10][page needed]

The Royalist cavaliers' skill and speed on horseback led to many early victories. Prince Rupert, the leader of the king's cavalry, learned a tactic while fighting in the Dutch army where the cavalry would charge at full speed into the opponent's infantry firing their pistols just before impact.[8][11][page needed]

However, with Oliver Cromwell and the introduction of the more disciplined New Model Army, a group of disciplined pikemen would stand their ground in the face of charging cavalry and could have a devastating effect. While the Parliamentarian cavalry were slower than the cavaliers, they were also better disciplined.[8] The Royalists had a tendency to chase down individual targets after the initial charge leaving their forces scattered and tired. Cromwell's cavalry, on the other hand, trained to operate as a single unit, which led to many decisive victories.[12]


The King's rule[edit]

The English Civil War broke out less than forty years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Elizabeth's death had resulted in the succession of her first cousin twice-removed, King James VI of Scotland, to the English throne as James I of England, creating the first personal union of the Scottish and English kingdoms.[b] As King of Scots, James had become accustomed to Scotland's weak parliamentary tradition since assuming control of the Scottish government in 1583, so that upon assuming power south of the border, the new King of England was genuinely affronted by the constraints the English Parliament attempted to place on him in exchange for money. In spite of this, James' personal extravagance meant he was perennially short of money and had to resort to extra-Parliamentary sources of income.

This extravagance was tempered by James' peaceful disposition, so that by the succession of his son Charles I to the English and Scottish thrones in 1625 the two kingdoms had both experienced relative peace, both internally and in their relations with each other, for as long as anyone could remember. Charles hoped to unite the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland into a new single kingdom, fulfilling the dream of his father.[13] Many English Parliamentarians had suspicions regarding such a move because they feared that setting up a new kingdom might destroy the old English traditions which had bound the English monarchy. As Charles shared his father's position on the power of the crown (James had described kings as "little gods on Earth", chosen by God to rule in accordance with the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings"), the suspicions of the Parliamentarians had some justification.[14]

Parliament in the English constitutional framework[edit]

At the time, the Parliament of England did not have a large permanent role in the English system of government. Instead, Parliament functioned as a temporary advisory committee and was summoned only if and when the monarch saw fit. Once summoned, a parliament's continued existence was at the king's pleasure, since it was subject to dissolution by him at any time.

Yet, in spite of this limited role, over the preceding centuries Parliament had acquired de facto powers of enough significance that monarchs could not simply ignore them indefinitely. For a monarch, Parliament's most indispensable power was its ability to raise tax revenues far in excess of all other sources of revenue at the Crown's disposal. By the seventeenth century, Parliament's tax-raising powers had come to be derived from the fact that the gentry was the only stratum of society with the ability and authority actually to collect and remit the most meaningful forms of taxation then available at the local level. This meant that if the king wanted to ensure a smooth collection of revenue, he needed the co-operation of the gentry. For all of the Crown's legal authority, by any modern standard, its resources were limited to the extent that, if and when the gentry refused to collect the king's taxes on a national scale, the Crown lacked any practical means with which to compel them.

Therefore, in order to secure their co-operation, monarchs permitted the gentry (and only the gentry) to elect representatives to sit in the House of Commons. When assembled along with the House of Lords, these elected representatives formed a Parliament. The concept of Parliaments therefore allowed representatives of the gentry to meet, primarily (at least in the opinion of the monarch) so that they could give their sanction to whatever taxes the monarch expected their electorate to collect. In the process, the representatives could also confer and send policy proposals to the king in the form of bills. However, Parliament lacked any legal means of forcing its will upon the monarch; its only leverage with the king was the threat of its withholding the financial means required to execute his plans.

Parliamentary concerns and the Petition of Right[edit]

Many concerns were raised over Charles's marriage to a Roman Catholic, French princess Henrietta Maria, in 1625. The Parliament refused to assign him the traditional right to collect customs duties for his entire reign, deciding instead to grant it only on a provisional basis and negotiate with him.[16]

Charles, meanwhile, decided to send an expeditionary force to relieve the French Huguenots whom French royal troops held besieged in La Rochelle. Military support for Protestants on the Continent was, in itself, popular both in Parliament and with the Protestant majority in general,[citation needed] and it had the potential to alleviate concerns brought about by the King's marriage to a Catholic. However, Charles's insistence on having his unpopular royal favourite George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, assume command of the English force undermined that support. Unfortunately for Charles and Buckingham, the relief expedition proved a fiasco (1627),[17] and Parliament, already hostile to Buckingham for his monopoly on royal patronage, opened impeachment proceedings against him.[18] Charles responded by dissolving Parliament. This move, while saving Buckingham, reinforced the impression that Charles wanted to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of his ministers.[18]

Having dissolved Parliament and unable to raise money without it, the king assembled a new one in 1628. (The elected members included Oliver Cromwell and Edward Coke.) The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right, and Charles accepted it as a concession in order to obtain his subsidy.[19] Amongst other things, the Petition referred to the Magna Carta.[20] However, it did not grant him the right of tonnage and poundage, which Charles had been collecting without Parliamentary authorisation since 1625. Several of the more active members of the opposition were imprisoned, which caused some outrage; one, John Eliot, subsequently died in prison, becoming regarded as a martyr for the rights of Parliament.

Personal rule[edit]

Charles I avoided calling a Parliament for the next decade, a period known as the "personal rule of Charles I", or the "Eleven Years' Tyranny".[23] During this period, Charles's lack of money determined policies. First and foremost, to avoid Parliament, the King needed to avoid war. Charles made peace with France and Spain, effectively ending England's involvement in the Thirty Years' War. However, that in itself was far from enough to balance the Crown's finances.

Unable to raise revenue without Parliament and unwilling to convene it, Charles resorted to other means. One method was reviving certain conventions, often long-outdated. For example, a failure to attend and to receive knighthood at Charles's coronation was a finable offence with the fine paid to the Crown. The King also tried to raise revenue through the ship money tax, by exploiting a naval-war scare in 1635, demanding that the inland English counties pay the tax for the Royal Navy. Established law supported this policy, but authorities had ignored it for centuries, and many regarded it as yet another extra-Parliamentary (and therefore illegal) tax.[24] Some prominent men refused to pay ship money, arguing that the tax was illegal, but they lost in court, and the fines imposed on them for refusing to pay ship money (and for standing against the tax's legality) aroused widespread indignation.[24]

During the "Personal Rule", Charles aroused most antagonism through his religious measures: he believed in High Anglicanism, a sacramental version of the Church of England, theologically based upon Arminianism, a creed shared with his main political advisor, Archbishop William Laud.[25] In 1633, Charles appointed Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury and started making the Church more ceremonial, replacing the wooden communion tables with stone altars.[26] Puritans accused Laud of reintroducing Catholicism; when they complained, he had them arrested. In 1637 John Bastwick, Henry Burton, and William Prynne had their ears cut off for writing pamphlets attacking Laud's views—a rare penalty for gentlemen, and one that aroused anger.[27] Moreover, the Church authorities revived the statutes passed in the time of Elizabeth I about church attendance and fined Puritans for not attending Anglican church services.[28]

Rebellion in Scotland[edit]

Main article: Bishops' War

The end of Charles's independent governance came when he attempted to apply the same religious policies in Scotland. The Church of Scotland, reluctantly episcopal in structure, had independent traditions.[29] Charles, however, wanted one uniform Church throughout Britain[30] and introduced a new, High Anglican version of the English Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in the middle of 1637. This was violently resisted; a riot broke out in Edinburgh,[31] which may have been started in St Giles' Cathedral, according to legend, by Jenny Geddes. In February 1638, the Scots formulated their objections to royal policy in the National Covenant.[32] This document took the form of a "loyal protest", rejecting all innovations not first having been tested by free parliaments and General Assemblies of the Church.

In the spring of 1639, King Charles I accompanied his forces to the Scottish border to end the rebellion known as the Bishops' War.[33] But, after an inconclusive military campaign, he accepted the offered Scottish truce: the Pacification of Berwick. The truce proved temporary, and a second war followed in the middle of 1640. This time, a Scots army defeated Charles's forces in the north, then captured Newcastle.[34] Charles eventually agreed not to interfere with Scotland's religion and paid the Scots' war-expenses.[citation needed]

Recall of the English Parliament[edit]

Charles needed to suppress the rebellion in Scotland. He had insufficient funds, however, and needed to seek money from a newly elected English Parliament in 1640.[35] The majority faction in the new Parliament, led by John Pym, took this appeal for money as an opportunity to discuss grievances against the Crown and opposed the idea of an English invasion of Scotland. Charles took exception to this lèse-majesté (offence against the ruler) and dissolved the Parliament after only a few weeks; hence the name "the Short Parliament".[35]

Without Parliament's support, Charles attacked Scotland again, breaking the truce at Berwick, and suffered a comprehensive defeat. The Scots went on to invade England, occupying Northumberland and Durham.[35] Meanwhile, another of Charles' chief advisors, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Viscount Wentworth, had risen to the role of Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632[36] and brought in much-needed revenue for Charles by persuading the Irish Catholic gentry to pay new taxes in return for promised religious concessions.[37]

In 1639, Charles had recalled Wentworth to England and in 1640 made him Earl of Strafford, attempting to have him achieve similar results in Scotland.[36] This time he proved less successful and the English forces fled the field in their second encounter with the Scots in 1640.[36] Almost the entirety of Northern England was occupied and Charles was forced to pay £850 per day to keep the Scots from advancing. If he did not, they would "take" the money by pillaging and burning the cities and towns of Northern England.[38]

All this put Charles in a desperate financial position. As King of Scots, he had to find money to pay the Scottish army in England; as King of England, he had to find money to pay and equip an English army to defend England. His means of raising English revenue without an English Parliament fell critically short of achieving this.[19] Against this backdrop, and according to advice from the Magnum Concilium (the House of Lords, but without the Commons, so not a Parliament), Charles finally bowed to pressure and summoned another English Parliament in November 1640.[33]

The Long Parliament[edit]

Main article: Long Parliament

The new Parliament proved even more hostile to Charles than its predecessor. It immediately began to discuss grievances against Charles and his government and with Pym and Hampden (of ship money fame) in the lead, took the opportunity presented by the King's troubles to force various reforming measures—including many with strong "anti-Papist" themes—upon him.[39] The legislators passed a law which stated that a new Parliament should convene at least once every three years—without the King's summons, if necessary. Other laws passed by the Parliament made it illegal for the king to impose taxes without Parliamentary consent and later gave Parliament control over the king's ministers. Finally, the Parliament passed a law forbidding the King to dissolve it without its consent, even if the three years were up. Ever since, this Parliament has been known as the "Long Parliament". However, Parliament did attempt to avert conflict by requiring all adults to sign The Protestation, an oath of allegiance to Charles.[c]

Early in the Long Parliament's proceedings the house overwhelmingly accused Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford of high treason and other crimes and misdemeanours.

Henry Vane the Younger supplied evidence in relation to Strafford's claimed improper use of the army in Ireland, alleging that Strafford was encouraging the King to use his army raised in Ireland to threaten England into compliance. This evidence was obtained from Vane's father, Henry Vane the Elder, a member of the King's Privy council, who refused to confirm it in Parliament out of loyalty to Charles. On 10 April 1641, Pym's case collapsed, but Pym made a direct appeal to Henry Vane the Younger to produce a copy of the notes from the King's Privy council, discovered by the younger Vane and secretly turned over to Pym, to the great anguish of the Elder Vane.[40] These notes from the King's Privy Council contained evidence Strafford had told the King, "Sir, you have done your duty, and your subjects have failed in theirs; and therefore you are absolved from the rules of government, and may supply yourself by extraordinary ways; you have an army in Ireland, with which you may reduce the kingdom."

Pym immediately launched a Bill of Attainder, stating Strafford's guilt and demanding that the Earl be put to death. Unlike a guilty finding in a court case, attainder did not require a legal burden of proof, but it did require the king's approval. Charles, however, guaranteed Strafford that he would not sign the attainder, without which the bill could not be passed. Furthermore, the Lords were opposed to the severity of the sentence of death imposed upon Strafford. Yet, increased tensions and a plot in the army to support Strafford began to sway the issue. On 21 April, the Commons passed the Bill (204 in favour, 59 opposed, and 250 abstained), and the Lords acquiesced. Charles, still incensed over the Commons' handling of Buckingham, refused. Strafford himself, hoping to head off the war he saw looming, wrote to the king and asked him to reconsider. Charles, fearing for the safety of his family, signed on 10 May. Strafford was beheaded two days later. In the meantime both Parliament and the King agreed to an independent investigation into the king's involvement in Strafford's plot.

The Long Parliament then passed the Triennial Act, also known as the Dissolution Act in May 1641, to which the Royal Assent was readily granted. The Triennial Act required that Parliament be summoned at least once every three years, and that when the King failed to issue proper summons, the members could assemble on their own. This act also forbade ship money without Parliament's consent, fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans. Monopolies were cut back severely, and the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished by the Habeas Corpus Act 1640 and the Triennial Act respectively. All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act. On 3 May, Parliament decreed The Protestation, attacking the 'wicked counsels' of Charles's government, whereby those who signed the petition undertook to defend 'the true reformed religion', parliament, and the king's person, honour and estate. Throughout May, the House of Commons launched several bills attacking bishops and episcopalianism in general, each time defeated in the Lords.

It was hoped by both Charles and Parliament that the execution of Strafford and the Protestation would end the drift towards war; in fact, they encouraged it. Charles and his supporters continued to resent Parliament's demands, while Parliamentarians continued to suspect Charles of wanting to impose episcopalianism and unfettered royal rule by military force. Within months, the Irish Catholics, fearing a resurgence of Protestant power, struck first, and all Ireland soon descended into chaos.[53] Rumours circulated that the King supported the Irish, and Puritan members of the Commons soon started murmuring that this exemplified the fate that Charles had in store for them all.[54]

In early January 1642, accompanied by 400 soldiers, Charles attempted to arrest five members of the House of Commons on a charge of treason.[55] This attempt failed. When the troops marched into Parliament, Charles enquired of William Lenthall, the Speaker, as to the whereabouts of the five. Lenthall replied, "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."[55] In other words, the Speaker proclaimed himself a servant of Parliament, rather than of the King.[55]

Local grievances[edit]

In the summer of 1642 these national troubles helped to polarise opinion, ending indecision about which side to support or what action to take. Opposition to Charles also arose owing to many local grievances. For example, the imposition of drainage schemes in The Fens negatively affected the livelihood of thousands of people after the King awarded a number of drainage contracts.[56] Many regarded the King as indifferent to public welfare, and this played a role in bringing a large part of eastern England into the Parliamentarian camp. This sentiment brought with it people such as the Earl of Manchester and Oliver Cromwell, each a notable wartime adversary of the King. Conversely, one of the leading drainage contractors, the Earl of Lindsey, was to die fighting for the King at the Battle of Edgehill.[57]

First English Civil War (1642–1646)[edit]

Main article: 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 the safety of his family and retinue, Charles left the London area for the north of the country.[58] 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: for example, the garrison of Portsmouth under the command of Sir George Goring declared for the King,[59] but 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, refused to let Charles enter Hull,[60] and when Charles returned with more men later, Hotham drove them off.[61] Charles issued a warrant for Hotham to be arrested as a traitor but was powerless to enforce it. Throughout the summer months, tensions rose and there was brawling in a number of places, with the first death from the conflict taking place in Manchester.[61][62]

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. Historians estimate that between them, both sides had only about 15,000 men.[citation needed] 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,[63] but most found it impossible to withstand both the King and Parliament. On one side, the King and his supporters 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". The views of the members of parliament ranged from unquestioning support of the King—at one point during the First Civil War, more members of the Commons and Lords gathered in the King's Oxford Parliament than at Westminster—through to radicals, who wanted major reforms in favour of religious independence and the redistribution of power at the national level. However, even the most radical supporters of the Parliamentarian cause still favoured the retention of Charles on the throne.[citation needed]

After the debacle at Hull, Charles moved on to Nottingham, where on 22 August 1642, he raised the royal standard.[64] 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,[65] Charles's 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.[66] 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".[67]

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 to office men sympathetic to their cause, and on 9 June they had voted to raise an army of 10,000 volunteers and appointed Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex commander three days later.[68] He received orders "to rescue His Majesty's person, and the persons of the Prince [of Wales] and the Duke of York out of the hands of those desperate persons who were about them".[69] The Lords Lieutenant, whom Parliament appointed, used the Militia Ordinance to order the militia to join Essex's army.[70]

Two weeks after the King had raised his standard at Nottingham, Essex led his army north towards Northampton,[71] picking up support along the way (including a detachment of Cambridgeshire cavalry raised and commanded by Oliver Cromwell).[d] By the middle of September Essex's forces had grown to 21,000 infantry and 4,200 cavalry and dragoons. On 14 September he moved his army to Coventry and then to the north of the Cotswolds,[72] a strategy which placed his army between the Royalists and London. 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,[73] 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.[74]

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 the earl of Essex would put himself in their way". Accordingly, the army left Shrewsbury on 12 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 pitched battle of the war, fought at Edgehill on 23 October 1642, proved inconclusive, and both the Royalists and Parliamentarians claimed it as a victory.[76] The second field action of the war, the stand-off at Turnham Green, saw Charles forced to withdraw to Oxford.[77] This city would serve as his base for the remainder of the war.[78]

In 1643 the Royalist forces won at Adwalton Moor, and gained control of most of Yorkshire.[79] In the Midlands, a Parliamentary force under Sir John Gell besieged and captured the cathedral city of Lichfield, after the death of the original commander, Lord Brooke.[80] This group subsequently joined forces with Sir John Brereton to fight the inconclusive Battle of Hopton Heath (19 March 1643), where the Royalist commander, the Earl of Northampton, was killed.[80] Subsequent battles in the west of England at Lansdowne and at Roundway Down also went to the Royalists.[81] 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.[82]

At this stage, from 7 to 9 August 1643, there were some popular demonstrations in London—both pro and against war. They were protesting at Westminster. A peace demonstration by London women, which turned violent, was suppressed by William Waller's regiment of horse. Some women were beaten and even killed, and many arrested.[83]

Following these events of August, the representative of Venice in England reported to the doge that the London government took considerable measures to stifle dissent.

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[85] and then brushed the Royalist army aside at the First Battle of Newbury (20 September 1643),[86] in order to return triumphantly to London. Other Parliamentarian forces won the Battle of Winceby,[87] giving them control of Lincoln. Political manoeuvring 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,[88] while Parliament offered concessions to the Scots in return for aid and assistance.

With the help of the Scots, Parliament won at Marston Moor (2 July 1644),[89] gaining York and the north of England.[90] Cromwell's conduct in this battle proved decisive,[91] 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.[92] Subsequent fighting around Newbury (27 October 1644), though tactically indecisive, strategically gave another check to Parliament.[93]

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-organized 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.[94] In two decisive engagements—the Battle of Naseby on 14 June and the Battle of Langport on 10 July—the Parliamentarians effectively destroyed Charles' armies.[95]

In the remains of his English realm Charles attempted to recover a stable base of support by consolidating the Midlands. He 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 took Leicester

Charles I, painted by Van Dyck
Session of the Long Parliament
Maps of territory held by Royalists (red) and Parliamentarians (green), 1642–1645

When King Charles I raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham Castle on 22 August 1642 and declared war on his own people he did so with his customary appeal to regal pomp and circumstance. Yet the ceremony degenerated into farce as Charles made last minute corrections to the Proclamation which the Herald then had difficulty reading out, and when the Standard was blown down in a storm on the same night it was interpreted by many as a bad omen. This fiasco symbolised the incompetence which hampered the Royalist campaign, and compared unfavourably with the organisation displayed by the Parliamentarian military forces during the years of conflict. For after raising the armies and an indecisive period of hostilities, what proved to be the determining factor in the war was the command, discipline and conviction of the New Model Army. Simon Court explains.

Raising the armies

The Royalists (or ‘Cavaliers’) found it initially more difficult to raise funds and troops because it was harder to persuade men away from their harvest and towards a political cause which was purely reactionary and sought to defend the King’s absolute right to govern unfettered by Parliament. (Pictured: Charles I). By contrast, the Parliamentarians (or ‘Roundheads’) could appeal to the need to make the King more accountable to his people through their elected representatives in the House of Commons, and were also able to draw on the support of the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians whose religious conviction was that God was on their side. Both politically and religiously, the Roundheads were more highly motivated.

The Roundheads also had control of the Navy and London, which gave them a clear advantage throughout the war. Control of the Navy meant that the Royalists were frustrated in their attempts to secure men and supplies from the Continent and Ireland. Control of London, which Charles had so foolishly abandoned, meant that the Roundheads had a ready provision of men, arms and clothing, easy access to borrowed money, and the administrative infrastructure of the nation state (while Charles had to cobble together new administrative and fiscal mechanisms in Oxford).

The occupation of London was particularly important throughout the war in respect of firearms, the majority of which both Roundheads and Royalists had to import from Holland and France. It meant that Parliament had control of the arsenal at the Tower of London, and was more easily able to import the sword blades and gunlocks which were necessary for the war effort. By contrast, the King was denied access to the armoury at Hull in April 1642, and when he lost Newcastle to the Scots in October 1644 he was forced to rely more heavily on the ports which he occupied in the south west. And by May 1644 the London armaments industry had expanded to such a degree that numerous London producers, who had previously supplied the King’s regime before the war, had become the major source of the supply of arms to the Roundheads.

Yet by late 1644, and despite their advantages, the Roundheads found themselves in military deadlock with the Cavaliers. The first major battle in October 1642 at Edgehill had been inconclusive, and thereafter the Cavaliers had found it easier to recruit out of a widespread social fear that the traditional English way of life was under threat from militant Puritanism. Whilst a Roundhead victory at Marston Moor in July 1644 had marked the loss of the north for the Cavaliers, they still remained strong in the south west (including Bristol and Bath) and Charles was secure in Oxford.


When the commander of the Roundhead Eastern Association, the Earl of Manchester, did not take full advantage of superior numbers at the Second Battle of Newbury in October 1644, and refused to pursue a retreating Charles to Bath, his subordinate as Lieutenant-General of Horse, Oliver Cromwell, pictured, realised that change was necessary. Cromwell suspected that outright defeat of the King would only be possible if the existing Roundhead commanders, who favoured a peaceful negotiated settlement with Charles, were removed and replaced with professional soldiers. Consequently in April 1645 he forced through Parliament the Self-Denying Ordinance which precluded MPs, both in the Lords and Commons, from holding military positions. Manchester and the Earl of Essex, who had led the Roundheads at Edgehill, promptly resigned.

Conveniently Cromwell, as MP for Cambridge, was deemed too important for the Roundhead military cause and was exempted from the Ordinance. He then promoted a fellow Marston Moor hero Sir Thomas Fairfax as head of the army. Tellingly Fairfax’s commission no longer included a clause for the preservation of the King’s person (although Fairfax later distanced himself from the trial and execution of Charles on 30 January 1649, which is discussed further in my piece Killing the King: The Trial and Execution of Charles I).

The Self-Denying Ordinance and the re-casting of the Roundhead chain of command put Cromwell in a central leadership position. But it was another casualty of the Ordinance, Sir William Waller, who was first to see the need to ‘remodel’ the whole structure of the Roundheads. As a major-general Waller had suffered defeat by Charles at Cropredy Bridge in June 1644, and on 2 July he wrote to the Parliamentary Committee of Both Kingdoms suggesting that “till you have an army merely your own that you may command, it is in a manner impossible to do anything of importance”. Waller recognised the inefficiency of the existing structure, where Roundhead armies were only recruited from within the regional associations (the East, West, North and South), because soldiers were often reluctant to campaign away from their local areas. He proposed the formation of a national army with no regional affiliations. Cromwell took up this idea and in conjunction with the Self-Denying Ordinance the New Model Army Ordinance was passed on 19 February 1645.


The New Model Army had been born, and Fairfax quickly moulded it into an efficient, disciplined fighting force with an unusually high degree of motivation. Officers were appointed and promoted on merit rather than social standing, and were often from humble origins. Colonel Pride, whose men forcibly prevented about 130 MPs from entering Parliament on 6 December 1648 and which precipitated the trial of Charles, was a brewer. This meritocratic principle was captured by Cromwell when he said “I had rather a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentlemen, and is nothing else”. The typical soldier of the New Model Army fitted this description: honest, sober, morally principled, politically motivated, unpretentious and disciplined. It served as a self-identity which contrasted with that of the Cavalier, who was depicted as boorish, arrogant, drunk, conceited and womanising.

In return for his loyalty the New Model Army soldier received regular pay. Other innovations included appointing officers of the general staff to perform specific tasks such as the administration of justice and the acquisition of supplies and provisions. The Scoutmaster-General Leonard Watson was responsible for reconnaissance and collecting intelligence on enemy movements, and the efficiency of the New Model Army’s intelligence proved to be a major factor in its success. These tasks were being performed at a national level . By contrast, efforts by the Royalists to modernise were hampered by factional struggles in Charles’ court in Oxford between those like Prince Rupert (pictured), the commander of the King’s cavalry, who insisted that military efficiency must be a priority, and those who claimed that the King must respect the traditional power structures in the shires.

The New Model Army consisted of 22,000 professional soldiers; 15,000 were infantrymen and 7,000 cavalry led by Cromwell and called the ‘Ironsides’ by Prince Rupert. They comprised volunteers, and also veterans who were reassigned from the four existing regional associations. The change in command and the restructuring of the Roundhead army was accompanied by a hardening of political attitude towards the future of the King and his allies. Archbishop Laud, who as we saw in my piece Politics, Protestantism and Personality: the causes of the English Civil War had introduced reforms which directly threatened Puritan religious practice, had been imprisoned for over four years but was executed in January 1645.

The creation of the New Model Army also resulted in an immediate and decisive military success in its first major engagement at Naseby in June 1645. For Naseby showed the difference in discipline between the two armies. Cromwell specifically forbade his cavalry to gallop after a fleeing army, but demanded that they hold the battlefield and not loot abandoned enemy baggage, which enabled them to make further charges. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, made the mistake of launching only one successful charge and then leaving the battlefield to go looting  and not participating further in the action. This tactical blunder was committed by Rupert not just at Naseby, but also at Edgehill, costing them victory. The final moments of Naseby turned into a bloodbath with many women, including a party of Welsh prostitutes and other Cavalier mistresses, slaughtered. This war crime reflected the increased brutality of the war and the religious zeal of the New Model Army.


In the wake of victory at Marston Moor Cromwell wrote “Truly England and the Church Of God hath had a great favour from the Lord, in this great victory given unto us…obtained by the Lord’s blessing upon the godly party”. And in the aftermath of Naseby he claimed the victory was down to “none other than but the hand of God; and to Him alone belongs the glory…” For Cromwell and his troops military victory was the outcome of God’s will. They were determined to ‘valiantly fight the Lord’s Battle’ as ‘an army of Saints’. The Soldiers Catechism (pictured)that was drilled into the army recruits further instilled a sense of divine mission: the first answer to the question What are the principal things required of a soldier? was ‘That he be religious and godly’.

The New Model Army was more than an efficient fighting force. It was the means to achieve a political and religious revolution. After Naseby the Royalists suffered further defeats at Langport and Bristol and in May 1646 the King was forced to surrender himself to Scottish Presbyterian forces in Newark. Tellingly, however, the New Model Army was not disbanded and indeed became further politicised as the attitude hardened that ‘Charles’ blood guilt’ and betrayal of his people demanded proper punishment before God. It was the New Model Army who drove through the process of the trial and execution of the King.

The New Model Army had become a fully integrated military arm of a modern political and religious movement. And self-consciously so. In The Representation of the Army (published in 1647), and in deliberate contrast to the Royalists, they described themselves thus:“…We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of Parliament to the defence of our own and the People’s just Rights and Liberties…”. It was that passion of the troops – military, political and religious – which made the difference to the outcome of the English Civil War.

See a list of the Key Battles of the English Civil War.

Simon Court

See also Simon’s articles on Politics, Protestantism and Personality: the Causes of the English Civil War and Killing the King: The Trial and Execution of Charles I.

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