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The English Civil War


Battle Of Naseby 1645

The Battle Of Marston Moor 1644
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By the spring of 1642, the relationship between Charles I and his Parliament had deteriorated so far that civil war seemed inevitable. Not only had Parliament taken away so many of the King's powers, but they and Charles had come to loggerheads over a rebellion in Ireland. Both the King and Parliament agreed that an army had to be sent to quash the rebellion, but they could not agree who should be in charge of the army. The King wanted to be in charge of it but so did Parliament! Charles refused to give his royal assent to the Militia Bill, which gave Parliament control over the military, but as it had been passed in the House of Commons, Parliament issued the bill as an ordinance. They declared that Parliament could act without the King's approval if doing so was in the national interest and that their ordinances carried the force of law.

The King was furious and issued his own Commission of Array. These commissions were an ancient way for a monarch to raise an army without having to resort to Parliament. But which were people to obey? Parliament's ordinance or the King's commission of array? A choice had to be made and this, effectively, began the civil war. It officially began on 22 August 1642 when Charles raised his standard (a royal flag) at Nottingham, calling his subjects to arms against his enemies.

From then on, the King and Parliament were at war. The first major battle of the war was the Battle of Edgehill on 23 October 1642. Almost 30,000 men, half for the King and half for Parliament, fought each other for three days. The fight was hard and bloody and hundreds died. The battlefield is said to be one of the most haunted in the world. Not long after the battle, locals reported seeing a ghostly replay of the battle at the site, and the phantom soldiers are said to fight on to this day. The battle was indecisive, however, ending any hope of a single battle resolving the quarrel.

Over the next few years, several major battles were fought between the King's supporters, known as royalists or cavaliers, and Parliament's, known as parliamentarians or roundheads (because many had short hair). The most famous battles are The Battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644) and The Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645). Parliament won both these battles and went on to win what is known as The First Civil War (1642-1646). The King suffered such a crushing defeat at The Battle Of Naseby, partly due to Parliament's New Model Army, which was a highly organised and reformed militia under the command of Oliver Cromwell, that his cause collapsed. Parliament gained control of the country and Charles was forced to surrender to the Scots. He hoped they would be loyal, as Scotland was a separate nation to England and he was their King, but early in 1647 they handed him over to Parliament. Charles was now Parliament's prisoner.

There was still a lot of support for the King, however, and Charles continued to hope for deliverance from his enemies and restoration to power. Parliamentarians were fighting a just cause, for greater democracy, but were less than democratic in their weilding of power. In the August of 1647, Cromwell and his New Model Army took control of Parliament, effectively resulting in a military dictatorship. In November, Charles managed to escape from Hampton Court Palace, where he was being held prisoner, but was captured on the Isle of Wight and imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle. Cromwell tried to negotiate a peace settlement with Charles but the terms were unacceptable to the King and a compromise could not be reached.

In 1648, the King's supporters in Wales, Southern England, and Scotland rose against Parliament, initiating what is known as The Second Civil War (1648-49). There were uprisings all over the country and a couple of important battles, the most important being The Battle Of Preston. But the Royalists were defeated. They lost stronghold after stronghold, and it is said by some that Humpty Dumpty, of the nursery rhyme fame, refers to a great cannon that was used by the Royalists in defending Colchester. The cannon, resting on a wall, was toppled by the Roundheads and the King's men were unable to mount it again. As a result, Colchester fell to Parliament.

The King's case was now hopeless. He had again lost to Parliament and had no way of reversing his fortunes. In the January of 1649, he was put on trial for "waging war against Parliament" and was found guilty of treason against his country. For this, he was condemned to death. On the 30 January 1649, before hundreds of spectators, he was executed outside Whitehall Palace. The crowd groaned in horror as never before had a King been executed. Now the country was without a king and at Cromwell's mercy.

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