From the Moment That Charles I Raised His Standard at Nottingham in August 1642, Ordinary

From the Moment That Charles I Raised His Standard at Nottingham in August 1642, Ordinary

An Overview of the English Civil War

From the moment that Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642, ordinary people throughout the country were forced to choose which side they were on. In the majority of cases this choice was made for them as they simply joined the army that reached their city or town first. Support remained much the same throughout 1642 and 1643, but during 1644 and 1645 people began to change sides.

For the King
Catholics, most of the Nobles and gentry, about half of all Members of Parliament, the poorer areas of the North and West.
The supporters of the King were called Cavaliers because many of them fought on horseback. The term comes from the French 'chevalier' meaning 'horse'. Cavaliers had long hair and wore fancy clothes.
/ For Parliament
Puritans, the more militant Members of Parliament, merchants, the richer areas of the South and East.
Parliamentarians were nicknamed 'roundheads' because they cut their hair very short. They also wore very plain and simple clothes.

Oliver Cromwell was born on April 25th 1599. His family had become wealthy following the dissolution of the monasteries by Thomas Cromwell and had changed their name from Williams to Cromwell in recognition of the man that had made their fortune. He attended CambridgeUniversity where he gained a reputation for his commitment to Puritanism. In 1620 he married Elizabeth Bourchier and the couple had two sons. In 1628 he became Member of Parliament for Huntingdon. In 1640 he was elected to the Long Parliament as Member for Cambridge, although he played no prominent part in the government.

When the Civil war began in 1642, Cromwell was sent to organise the defence of Norfolk. He was noted for his organisational skills and bravery and when the East Anglian counties formed the Eastern Association, Cromwell was put in charge of the cavalry. His reputation was further enhanced when his cavalry made a notable contribution to the Battle of Marston Moor. When the New Model Army was formed, Cromwell was made General of the Horse and he played an important part in the defeat of the King in the Battle of Naseby.

When the Civil War ended with Parliament victorious, Cromwell played a part in trying to keep Parliament united. He also tried to smooth things between Parliament and the army in 1647 when the army mutinied and refused to disband. He played a prominent part in the second Civil War and was the prime mover behind the decision to execute the King in 1649 and the establishment of the Commonwealth.

Having stabilised England, Cromwell left for Ireland to put down the Irish Civil War. As an extreme Puritan, he hated the Catholics and had never forgiven them for their alleged massacre of Protestants in 1641.He therefore felt he was justified in seeking revenge and was responsible for the Massacre of Drogheda in September 1649.

Cromwell was becoming increasingly frustrated with the members of the Rump Parliament who had not passed reforms in either the political or religious sphere. In 1653, at the head of an army, Cromwell marched into Parliament and dismissed the members. It was replaced by the Barebones Parliament, a select parliament of committed Puritans who elected Cromwell as Lord Protector.


The English Civil War has many causes but the personality of Charles I must be counted as one of the major reasons. Few people could have predicted that the civil war, that started in 1642, would have ended with the public execution of Charles. His most famous opponent in this war was Oliver Cromwell - one of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles.

No king had ever been executed in England and the execution of Charles was not greeted with joy. How did the English Civil War break out?As with many wars, there are long and short term causes.

Long term causes:

The status of the monarchy had started to decline under the reign of James I. He was known as the "wisest fool in Christendom". James was a firm believer in the "divine right of kings". This was a belief that God had made someone a king and as God could not be wrong, neither could anyone appointed by him to rule a nation. James expected Parliament to do as he wanted; he did not expect it to argue with any of his decisions.

However, Parliament had one major advantage over James - they had money and he was continually short of it. Parliament and James clashed over custom duties. This was one source of James income but Parliament told him that he could not collect it without their permission. In 1611, James suspended Parliament and it did not meet for another 10 years. James used his friends to run the country and they were rewarded with titles. This caused great offence to those Members of Parliament who believed that they had the right to run the country.

In 1621, James re-called Parliament to discuss the future marriage of his son, Charles, to a Spanish princess. Parliament was outraged. If such a marriage occurred, would the children from it be brought up as Catholics? Spain was still not considered a friendly nation to England and many still remembered 1588 and the Spanish Armada. The marriage never took place but the damaged relationship between king and Parliament was never mended by the time James died in 1625.

Short term causes:

Charles had a very different personality compared to James. Charles was arrogant, conceited and a strong believer in the divine rights of kings. He had witnessed the damaged relationship between his father and Parliament, and considered that Parliament was entirely at fault. He found it difficult to believe that a king could be wrong. His conceit and arrogance were eventually to lead to his execution.

From 1625 to 1629, Charles argued with parliament over most issues, but money and religion were the most common causes of arguments.In 1629, Charles copied his father. He refused to let Parliament meet. Members of Parliament arrived at Westminster to find that the doors had been locked with large chains and padlocks. They were locked out for eleven years - a period they called the Eleven Years Tyranny.

Charles also clashed with the Scots. He ordered that they should use a new prayer book for their church services. This angered the Scots so much that they invaded England in 1639. As Charles was short of money to fight the Scots, he had to recall Parliament in 1640 as only they had the necessary money needed to fight a war and the required authority to collect extra money.

By 1642, relations between Parliament and Charles had become very bad. Charles had to do as Parliament wished as they had the ability to raise the money that Charles needed. However, as a firm believer in the "divine right of kings", such a relationship was unacceptable to Charles.

In 1642, he went to Parliament with 300 soldiers to arrest his five biggest critics. Someone close to the king had already tipped off Parliament that these men were about to be arrested and they had already fled to the safety of the city of London where they could easily hide from the king. However, Charles had shown his true side. Members of Parliament represented the people. Here was Charles attempting to arrest five Members of Parliament simply because they dared to criticise him. If Charles was prepared to arrest five Members of Parliament, how many others were not safe? Even Charles realised that things had broken down between him and Parliament. Only six days after trying to arrest the five Members of Parliament, Charles left London to head for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. A civil war could not be avoided.


Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) was an English philosopher of the Age of Reason. His famous 1651 book "Leviathan" and his social contract theory, developed during the tumultuous times around the English Civil War, established the foundation for most of Western Political Philosophy.

When the Royalist cause in the English Civil War began to decline in the middle of 1644, there was an exodus of the king's supporters to Europe, and especially to Paris. Hobbes's political interests were revitalised, and the third (and most political) part of his three-part treatise, "De Cive", was republished and more widely distributed in 1646. In 1647, after some months as mathematical instructor to the young Charles, Prince of Wales (later to become Charles II of England), he was persuaded by his Royalist friends to set forth his theory of civil government in detail, especially in relation to the political crisis resulting from the Civil War. Despite a serious illness which disabled him for six months, he continued in this task until 1651, when his famous masterwork "Leviathan" was published.

In his "Leviathan" (subtitled "The Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil") of 1651, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments, based on social contract theories (Contractarianism). It was written during the English Civil War of 1642 - 1651, and much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority and the avoidance of the evils of discord and civil war. It built on the earlier "Elements of Law" of 1640, (which was initially an attempt to provide arguments supporting the King against his challengers), and particularly on his "De Cive" of 1642.

He argued that the human body is like a machine, and that political organization ("commonwealth") is like an artificial human being. Beginning from this mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes postulated what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the "state of nature" and which he argued inevitably leads to conflict and lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". In order to escape this state of war and insecurity, men in the state of nature accede to a "social contract" and establish a civil society. Thus, all individuals in that society cede their natural rights for the sake of protection, and any abuses of power by this authority must be accepted as the price of peace (although in severe cases of abuse, rebellion is to be expected). In particular, he rejected the doctrine of separation of powers, arguing that the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers, which some have seen as a justification for authoritarianism and even Totalitarianism.


John Locke (1632 - 1704) was an English philosopher of the Age of Reason and early Age of Enlightenment. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of Epistemology and Political Philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential early Enlightenment thinkers.He is usually considered the first of the British Empiricists, the movement which included George Berkeley and David Hume, and which provided the main opposition to the 17th Century Continental Rationalists. He argued that all of our ideas are ultimately derived from experience, and the knowledge of which we are capable is therefore severely limited in its scope and certainty.

Along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he was also one of the originators of Contractarianism (or Social Contract Theory), which formed the theoretical groundwork of democracy, republicanism and modern Liberalism and Libertarianism. He is sometimes referred to as the "Philosopher of Freedom", and his political views influenced both the American and French Revolutions.

With his "Two Treatises of Civil Government", published anonymously in 1690 in order to avoid controversy, Locke established himself as a political theorist of the highest order. The "First Treatise" was intended merely to refute Sir Robert Filmer's support of the Divine Right of Kings, arguing that neither scripture nor reason supports Filmer's contentions. The "Second Treatise", however, offered a systematic account of the foundations of political obligation. In Locke's view, all rights begin in the individual property interest created by an investment of labour. The social structure (or "commonwealth") depends for its formation and maintenance on the express consent of those governed by its political powers (the so-called Social Contract). Majority rule thus becomes the cornerstone of all political order, although dissatisfied citizens reserve a lasting right to revolution.

Like Thomas Hobbes before him, Locke started from a belief that humans have absolute natural rights, in the sense of universal rights that are inherent in the nature of Ethics, and not contingent on human actions or beliefs . However, much of his political work is characterized by his opposition to authoritarianism, and particularly to the tendency towards Totalitarianism advocated by Hobbes. In particular, he defined our civil interests (those which the State can and should legitimately protect) as life, liberty, health and property, specifically excluding religious concerns, which he saw as outside the legitimate concern of civil government.