English Civil Wars

The English Civil Wars, for there were two, are often called The Great Rebellion. The Civil Wars were armed conflicts that took place between 1642 and 1648, and concerned the forces of the English Parliament opposing those of King Charles I.

 A complex of political, economic, social, and religious problems caused the wars. The policies of King Charles, and of James I before him, brought an ongoing struggle for power between the king and parliament to a head. The government's attempts to impose religious uniformity aroused the Puritans and Independents as well.

In general, Charles supported his right to absolute rule, as defined by the "Divine Right of Kings" and therefore took his lead from the Catholic Church and its Pope. Charles' marriage to the unpopular French Catholic Henrietta Maria and his wars against Spain and France only added to his differences with the parliament. The struggle began soon after his accession and was characterised by bold manoeuvres on both sides. Parliament refused Charles some money grants until he agreed to end his arbitrary practices. Charles briefly relented; agreeing to the Petition of Right (1628), then dissolved Parliament (1629) and ruled without it, raising money by a variety of constitutional but unpopular means. Charles rigourously pursued religious orthodoxy, and his attempt to impose English liturgy in Scotland embroiled him in the Bishops' Wars (1639-40). He was supported by older aristocratic families, Catholics, and by people living in the north and west, while the parliamentary stronghold lay in the south and southeast. The substantial proportion of the population remained neutral in the conflict.

During the wars Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) emerged as the leading figure of the Parliamentary army, which became a stronghold of Puritan sentiment. He was a leader of the Parliamentarians before the outbreak of war, and was a principal influence in the Protestant (Protesting against Catholicism) movement. Cromwell became leader of the Commonwealth and Protectorate government created after the monarchy was abolished. The monarchy was re-established two years after Cromwell's death.

Timeline key points for the English Civil Wars:

    1625 Charles I succeeded to the throne. His belief in the divine right of kings led to a continuation of the struggle between king and Parliament that had troubled the reign of his predecessor, James I.

    1626 Charles dissolved Parliament because it had limited his right to collect customs duties and had impeached his favourite, G. Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

    1628 Charles I convened a new Parliament in order to raise the money that he needed.

    1628 The "Petition of Right" presented to Charles by Parliament, listing his abuses of power. Charles agreed to its demands to get money.

    1629 Charles again dissolved Parliament after its continued protests against taxation, the Spanish war, and toleration of Catholics.

    1629-40 Charles ruled without Parliament for 11 years.

    1634 Charles extended ship-money tax, a device for raising money without Parliament, from coastal towns to entire kingdom.

    1638 Solemn League and Covenant signed by Scottish Presbyterians after Charles attempted to impose English liturgy in Scotland.

    1639 "The First Bishops' War" was fought when Charles battled with Scotland over his attempt to impose English liturgy there. Charles was forced to reconvene Parliament to get funds for this war.

    1640 The "Short Parliament" was convened, but Charles dissolved it after it demanded reforms.

    1640 During "The Second Bishops' War" with Scotland Charles was defeated and forced to agree to monetary payments to Scots.

    1640 "The Long Parliament" was convened, brought about by Charles' need for money and the Scottish crisis. Parliament passed numerous fundamental reforms, including a law prohibiting dissolution of Parliament without its consent. Charles reluctantly agreed to some reforms .

    1641 The "Grand Remonstrance" was issued against Charles by Parliament. It demanded control by Parliament over the army, church reform, and appointment of royal ministers acceptable to it.

    1642 During January Charles was unsuccessful in trying to have John Pym and other leaders of parliamentary opposition arrested. The break between Parliament and Royalists was nearly complete.

    1642 In June Parliament issued the "Nineteen Propositions" which was rejected by Charles. Preparations for war began on both sides, with Royalists generally concentrated in north and Parliamentarians in the south.

    1642-46 First Civil War.

    1642 Battle of Edgehill (Oct. 23) was the first major skirmish and proved indecisive.

    1643 Parliament secured an alliance with Scotland by promising to establish Presbyterianism as the state church in England. Scottish troops then joined fighting.

    1644 Battle of Marston Moor (July 2); Oliver Cromwell and his regiment (called Ironsides) inflicted a stinging defeat on the Royalists.

    1645 The "Self-Denying Ordinance" was passed and as a result all members of Parliament (except Cromwell) resigned their commands in army (Apr.).

    1644-45 The Parliamentary army reorganized into the New Model Army, the Puritan influence became predominant in the army.

    1645 Cromwell was victorious over Charles in the Battle of Naseby (June 14); Royalist resistance by now was almost broken.

    1646 At the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold (Mar. 26) the Royalists were finally beaten in this last battle of the First Civil War.

    1646 Charles surrendered himself to the Scots (May 5), hoping for lenient treatment and time to regroup and regain control.

    1647 The Scots turned Charles over to Parliament in England (Jan.).

    1647 Growing independent and Puritan religious opinion in the army made a consensus impossible on the Parliamentary side. Some Presbyterians began to turn back to the Royalist cause.

    1647 The Army refused the order by Parliament to disband. They seized King Charles on June 4th. Cromwell joined the rebelling army faction, which then attempted to negotiate with Charles. The army occupied London on August 6th to impose policies on Presbyterian members of Parliament.

    1647 In November King Charles escaped to the Isle of Wight and concluded agreement with Scotland, now disaffected by the radicalism of the English Parliamentarians;. The Scottish armies agreed to fight for Royalist cause .

    1648 Second Civil War was a brief but complex struggle that pitted Scotland against England, Parliament against the Royalists, and Independents against Presbyterians.

    1648 Parliamentary forces quelled uprisings in various parts of the kingdom.

    1648 From August 17th to 19th at the Battle of Preston Cromwell and his parliamentary army defeated the invading Scottish army. This marked the end of fighting in the Second Civil War .

    1648 During December the army again seized King Charles.

    1648 The Parliamentary army, under Cromwell's control, expelled pro-Royalist Presbyterians from Parliament; this was called "Pride's Purge". The remaining members constituted the Rump Parliament.

    1649 The army issued "The Instrument of Government" on January 10th.

    1649 King Charles was beheaded after his trial on January 30th. The monarchy was abolished and the Commonwealth proclaimed the day of Charles's execution. Cromwell became head of state.

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