civil wars

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In 1629 Charles I dismissed Parliament, resolving never to call another. He might have succeeded but for the problem of the multiple kingdoms. During the 1630s he decided to bring Scottish religious practice into conformity with English by abolishing presbyterian worship and substituting an Anglican service. The Scots revolted, and Charles's two attempts to subdue them—the Bishops' wars of 1639 and 1640—were abject failures. At the insistence of the nobility he summoned Parliament. Once convened, the Commons refused him the taxes he needed, and set about dismantling the apparatus of prerogative government, abolishing ship money, the courts of Star Chamber, High Commission, Wards, and others; passing a Triennial Act, depriving church courts of their punitive powers, and attainting Charles's chief minister Strafford. Charles ratified these changes, but with such ill grace that many doubted whether he would keep his word. Trust became a critical issue upon the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland in the autumn of 1641. Exaggerated reports of atrocities perpetrated against the protestant settlers in Ireland inflamed English opinion. It was accepted that an army should crush the rebellion, but there was no agreement about entrusting the king with command. Charles's attempt to arrest five of the parliamentary ringleaders contributed to the deepening distrust of him. Mistrust was compounded by fear that the king could not be counted on to defend England against the threat of international catholicism. Thus legal and constitutional arguments about taxation, the rights of Parliament, and the extent of royal power were inflamed by religious panic.

Despite its control of the midlands, the east, and the south‐east including London, there was nothing inevitable about Parliament's victory. Charles almost overthrew his foes at Edgehill (October 1642), while in 1643 there were a number of royalist victories. For all the efforts of John Pym to hold together the parliamentary coalition, parliamentary fortunes reached their nadir in that year.

What turned the tide against Charles I was again the reality of multiple kingdoms. In return for a promise to uphold presbyterian church government and impose it in England, the Scots came to Parliament's aid with an army of 20,000. This bargain was sealed in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and the Scots army entered England early in 1644. The joint armies dealt a crushing blow to the king's forces at Marston Moor, near York (July 1644). However, this victory was almost frittered away by Essex when he allowed his army to become trapped by Charles at Lostwithiel in Cornwall (September 1644). Completely disenchanted with the aristocratic leadership of Parliament's armies, the win‐the‐war faction under Sir Henry Vane and Oliver Cromwell purged the armies of their noble and parliamentary leadership, creating the New Model Army. Led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, and knit together by regular pay and religious indoctrination, this army quickly put the royalist forces to flight at Naseby (June 1645), Langport (July 1645), and Bristol (September 1645). By May 1646 Charles had handed himself over to the Scots.

Refusing to accept the verdict of the battlefield, Charles dragged out peace negotiations with Parliament, attempting to exploit the rift between army and Parliament and redoubling his efforts to persuade the Scots to assist him. Early in 1648 royalist risings erupted in Kent, Essex, Wales, and the navy in anticipation of a Scottish intervention on behalf of the king. But the Scots were late, and the New Model Army had no difficulty crushing the revolts. When the duke of Hamilton crossed the border in July, he attracted little support, and Cromwell destroyed his forces between Preston and Uttoxeter (August 1648). Everywhere triumphant in battle, the army found that Parliament was still intent on negotiating with the king. To prevent such an outcome it occupied London, purged the House of Commons of those who favoured negotiation, and engineered the trial and execution of the king. Once the Rump Parliament had abolished monarchy and the House of Lords, it launched invasions of Ireland (1649) and Scotland (1650). In spite of Cromwellian ruthlessness at Drogheda and Wexford, Ireland took three years to subjugate. The Scots were devastated at Dunbar (September 1650), but continued to resist, to the point of invading England a year later under Charles II. His forces scattered at Worcester (September 1651), the hapless king fled to the continent. Although the king, lords, and Church of England were brought back in 1660, prerogative government was not. The constitutional changes of 1641 were preserved, while the legacy of the civil wars in religious liberty and parliamentary domination of the state re‐emerged in the ‘*Glorious’ Revolution of 1688–9.


Subjects: British History.

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