English Civil War

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Allegory of the English Civil War by William Shakespeare Burton (1855).
A royalist lies wounded on the floor, a Puritan in black stands in the background.

The English Civil War (English: English Civil War ) was fought from 1642 to 1649 between the supporters of King Charles I of England (" Cavaliers ") and those of the English Parliament (" Roundheads "). In it not only the tensions between the absolutist -minded king and the lower house , but also the contradictions between Anglicans , Puritans , Presbyterians and Catholics discharged . The war ended with the execution of the king, the temporary abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic in England . In a larger context, one speaks of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms ( England , Scotland and Ireland ), which spanned the period from 1639 to 1651.

Causes of the Civil War

Religious and Dynastic Developments

Contemporary caricature on the English Civil War

Under King Henry VIII , England separated from the Catholic Church in 1534 with the establishment of the Anglican State Church . After Queen Maria I Tudor failed to attempt to recatholicize the country, the Anglican State Church was strengthened under her successor Elizabeth I. However, since their teaching hardly differed from Catholicism in the eyes of many Englishmen, the radical Calvinist Puritans were very popular in the second half of the 16th century .

After the death of childless Elisabeth, the English crown fell to King James VI by inheritance . of Scotland . As James I, he united both countries in personal union in 1603 and called himself King of Great Britain from 1604 . Unlike his Catholic mother, Maria Stuart , who was executed in 1587 at the instigation of both Houses of Parliament for repeated conspiracies against Elizabeth I , Jacob was a staunch Protestant who was strongly influenced by the Calvinism that was prevalent in Scotland . At the same time, however, he was a staunch supporter of the idea of ​​the "Divine Right of Kings", the god-given right to rule. The conviction that the kings owed their rule solely to the grace of God and therefore owed only him accountable, brought the Stuart kingship into opposition from the beginning to the English system of government, which at that time had limited parliamentary participation in state affairs for about 300 years knew. In the course of the 17th century, the politically and economically dominant strata of England became more and more convinced that kingship, too, was only an office conferred by humans, that the king was not completely free in his decisions and actions, but incorporated into the traditional one Constitutional order.

England under James I.

As King of England, James I relied on the Anglican State Church, the majority of whose bishops were also convinced of the divine right of kings. At the same time she rejected the puritanical doctrine, which denied the king the right to subject his subjects to compulsion in matters of conscience.

When the Anglican Bishops' Conference in 1604 condemned both the Puritan and Catholic faiths, religious tension in England heightened. In November 1605, Catholic nobles around Guy Fawkes planned the murder of Jacob I and all parliamentarians in the so-called powder conspiracy . The attack was only thwarted by accident. This led to a brief rapprochement between the king and parliament . In the long term, however, it turned out to be more momentous that James I continued to show absolutist tendencies and that from then on Catholicism was viewed by large parts of the gentry and the Protestant bourgeoisie as suspicious and hostile to the state.

The idea of ​​a divinely legitimized kingship, which is not obliged to any earthly power and thus also not to parliament, shaped Jacob's policy. He made it possible to buy titles, which aimed at weakening the lower nobility . The king's peaceful attitude towards the great Catholic power Spain caused his reputation to decline further. In parliament, an opposition to the king formed, which consisted primarily of members of the gentry and the bourgeoisie and was concerned about safeguarding parliamentary rights. The massive settlement of English and Scottish settlers under James I in Ulster, Ireland, also had serious consequences . Although Ireland had been under English sovereignty since the late 12th century and had been officially under the English crown since 1542, the Catholic faith had remained there. The Nine Years War in Ireland (1594–1603) showed that there was great potential for conflict in this part of the English sphere of power as well.

England under Charles I.

When Jacob I died in 1625, his son Charles I succeeded him to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. His marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria de Bourbon , the daughter of King Henry IV of France, made him particularly unpopular with the Puritans. In addition, Charles I insisted on the divine rights of kings even more than his father and sought a reconciliation with the Catholic Church. So it came about that the parliament, in which numerous Puritans were represented, gave him the so-called ship money, i.e. H. the port tariffs, which were one of the most important sources of income for the English kingship, only granted for one year, instead of for the entire reign, as had been the custom until then after the accession of a new king. The parliament wanted to force it to be convened again at the end of the year and thus secure the possibility of continuing to exert influence on the king's government activities. When it was preparing to initiate impeachment proceedings against the Duke of Buckingham , the king's confidante and chief minister who had brokered the French marriage, Charles I dissolved the House of Commons in 1626.

England's short-term involvement in the Thirty Years 'War against Spain and in favor of Charles' brother-in-law Frederick V of the Palatinate ( Anglo-Spanish War from 1625 to 1630 ) had largely exhausted royal financial resources. Only parliament could approve new funds, so that in 1628 Charles I was forced to convene the lower house again. It was then that his future opponent Oliver Cromwell was elected to parliament for the first time. The MPs made the approval of the funds dependent on the acceptance of the Petition of Right by the King. In it, they demanded, among other things, that he should refrain from collecting taxes without their consent and be protected from arbitrary arrests. The king signed the petition, but after the funding was approved, he did not obey the demands and continued to rule in the same style as before. He ended the costly military engagements in Europe, levied taxes at random out of his own power, arrested those unwilling to pay and did not convene a parliament for the next 11 years.

Until 1640 Charles I ruled de facto like an absolutist ruler. He let his political and religious opponents persecute, which particularly affected the Puritans. He relied on advisers such as Thomas Wentworth , the future Earl of Strafford, and William Laud , the Archbishop of Canterbury . Wentworth, a former member of the House of Commons, was appointed Lord Deputy to Ireland in 1632 , where he calmed the situation with tough, at the same time pro-Catholic policies. Archbishop Laud strove for a unified Anglican church constitution that should also include the predominantly Presbyterian Scotland. This aroused fierce opposition there, but met with strong sympathy among the English Puritans.

The road to civil war

The Presbyterian Scots, who had united in the Covenant with God , the "covenant with God", stepped in 1638 to revolt against Laud's plans. Charles I ordered Wentworth back from Ireland in 1639, appointed him Earl of Strafford and ordered him to put down the rebellion. However, Strafford failed while the cost of the so-called Episcopal Wars soared. As a result, Charles I was forced to convene parliament in 1640 and ask it for new funding. Since the MPs criticized Karl's rule in general and his military action against Scotland in particular, the king had parliament dissolved again after a few weeks. One speaks therefore of the short parliament . Further English failures in the fight against the Scots forced Charles I to convene parliament again in the same year. The assembly, which would go down in history as the Long Parliament , was dominated by the Puritans under the leadership of John Pym .

In order to prevent a repetition of the events of 1628/29, the parliament immediately forced Charles I to make decisive concessions. So he had to agree that his closest adviser Strafford was tried and that he was executed for high treason in 1641. The Irish Catholics now feared the end of the accommodating policies of Strafford and violent Anglicanization. So it came to open rebellion in 1641 , the numerous Protestant English and Scottish settlers fell victim.

In order to crack down on the Catholics in Ireland, the vast majority of MPs were immediately ready to approve funds. Above all, the Puritans among them feared that Charles I could use the troops to be recruited to consolidate his power in England. Therefore, under the leadership of John Pym, they tried to withdraw command of the troops from the king and to transfer it to men who had the confidence of Parliament. However, a strong minority of deputies opposed this plan, who saw executive power as a sacred privilege of the king. To justify his plan, Pym brought the so-called Great Remonstrance - the great provision - into the House of Commons. This complaint, which was to be submitted to the king, listed all the misconducts that Parliament had committed since 1625 by his government. In addition, she derived political demands from these misconduct, including - for the first time in the history of England - the parliamentary control of the government. The remonstrance was only accepted after a long, heated debate and only with a narrow majority. It turned out that the demands contained therein went too far for many MPs. In the dispute over command of the army and over the Great Remonstrance, the fault line of the coming civil war became apparent for the first time, namely the one between the opponents and the supporters of the idea of ​​the Divine Right of Kings .

Since the first outlines of a party loyal to the king had emerged in parliament, Charles I felt so strengthened in his position that he attempted a coup d'etat in January 1642: he appeared at the head of 400 armed men in the lower house, at five he was hostile to him arrest minded MPs including John Pym, John Hampden and Arthur Haselrig . The attempt failed because all five managed to flee in time. Charles I had blatantly violated the rights of Parliament with his action and committed a clear breach of the constitution, which sparked outrage among the people of London. Karl was forced to leave the city. He went to Oxford to rally his followers. The House of Commons now initiated the formation of an army in order to be able to meet the royalists. As the Thirty Years' War on mainland Europe slowly came to an end, England sank into the turmoil of civil war.

Course of war

Royalist initial successes

Front lines 1642 to 1645

After the outbreak of civil war, much of Wales , Cornwall and north-east England sided with the king. While the English loyal to the king were referred to as "Cavaliers", the supporters of Parliament were known as "Roundheads" (due to their mostly short haircut). Some regions initially tried to be neutral, but did not succeed in the long term. The first major battle of the English Civil War came with the siege of Kingston upon Hull by the royalist William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Newcastle , which had to be broken off on October 11, 1642. Hull in the north-east was henceforth considered by the parliamentarians as a possible starting point for the conquest of Yorkshire . On October 23, there was a field battle between the conflicting parties at Edgehill . The unclear outcome of the battle had no influence on the further advance of the royalist cavaliers, who soon succeeded in taking Oxford . The parliamentary roundheads now faced the imminent danger of an advance of troops loyal to the king against London. General Skippon, who was in parliamentary service, raised an army of over 20,000 men and had London fortified. Skippon's troops opposed the Cavaliers on November 13, 1642, but the latter withdrew without any noteworthy fighting.

In 1643 the Scots took sides for the Roundheads, while the Cavaliers from Cornwall became militarily more active. Under Sir Ralph Hopton , royalist troops conquered Devon , Dorset and Somerset . Hopton's troops united in July with those of the royal cavalry general Ruprecht von der Pfalz , a son of Frederick V. Together they undertook an attack on Bristol , which began on July 26th and ended with the capture of the city after heavy losses. On August 9th, the Cavaliers began the siege of Gloucester , which was located in the middle of royalist-controlled territory. When a relief army arrived under Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex , the royalists withdrew on September 5th. On September 20, a battle between the two armies finally broke out at Newbury , which produced no clear victor.

The decisive phase of the war

The war year 1644 began with the siege of Nantwich by Irish troops under the royalist General Byron, but ended on January 25th by parliamentary troops under Sir Thomas Fairfax . To relieve York, which was besieged by the Roundheads , Ruprecht arrived outside the city and forced the parliamentarians and their Scottish allies to an open field battle at Marston Moor on July 2nd . The battle ended in severe defeat for the royalists, who lost control of northern England. In the southwestern theater of war, the Earl of Essex made a deep foray into royalist territory until he was ambushed and defeated on September 1 at Lostwithiel , Cornwall . The Battle of Lostwithiel was the last major success of the Royalists. Instead of using the outcome of the battle for further military ventures, Charles I withdrew with his troops to Oxford.

The establishment of the New Model Army under Fairfax and Cromwell , which began in the winter of 1644 and was completed by January 1645, was decisive for the further course of the war . Oliver Cromwell had set up a cavalry unit in 1643 , which consisted mostly of fanatical Puritans and whose members were known as " Ironsides ". Cromwell took over command of the cavalry in the New Model Army, which also consisted predominantly of radical Puritans . The fighting army, which was modernly equipped for the time, inflicted a heavy defeat on the troops of Charles I on June 14, 1645 in the battle of Naseby . On July 10, the Cavaliers were again defeated in the Battle of Langport . By the autumn, the Roundheads recaptured important bases such as Bristol. There was a particularly gruesome incident at the Basing House in Hampshire . The property, also known as the "Loyalty House" and defended by royalists, had withstood several sieges in 1643 and 1644 with its provisional bastions . It offered refuge to numerous people who were hated on the parliamentary side, such as Catholics and members of the high nobility. On October 14, 1645, the Roundheads shot the Basing House ready for storm. A Puritan preacher called the defenders of the property "blasphemous vermin" and demanded their destruction. Few people were spared when the victorious Roundheads stormed the Basing House.

By the beginning of 1646, the royalists were clearly on the defensive. Parliamentary and Scottish troops began the siege of Newark-on-Trent , the last royalist-held city in northern England. On May 8, the city garrison surrendered. In the same month the siege of Oxford by the Roundheads began, where Charles I had withdrawn after the battle of Naseby. Before the ring of siege had closed around Oxford, he managed to escape. He went to Newcastle , where Scottish troops gave him protection. From there, on June 16, 1646, his order was issued to all remaining royalist garrisons to lay down their arms.

The "second" civil war

The Scots delivered Charles I to the English Parliament in 1647. After a few months in captivity, Karl took advantage of tensions between the army and parliament to convince the Scots to step over to his side. In July 1648, there was a royalist uprising in England while Scottish fighters invaded English territory. Under Oliver Cromwell, the Scots were decisively defeated in the Battle of Preston , while royalist towns were brought back under control of Parliament. The English Civil War was thus ended. Only in Ireland did insurgents under James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde continue to resist the Roundheads. Through his military successes and support from the financially well-resourced middle class, Cromwell's influence had grown significantly. He tasked the army with the arrest of various Presbyterian and loyal MPs. In addition, many members of parliament were denied access to parliament (the so-called Pride's Purge ). The resulting rump parliament ordered a trial against Charles I at Cromwell's instigation. On January 30, 1649, Charles I was beheaded.

consequences of war

The English Civil War resulted in the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the English Republic, the so-called Commonwealth . The republic was ruled by the rump parliament without an upper house . Puritanism had turned from a temporarily suppressed to the dominant religious movement in England, which was particularly disadvantageous for the Catholics. Under Cromwell, brutal penalties were made against Ireland and Scotland and Irish landowners were expropriated. The republic only existed until 1653 and was replaced by a Puritan military dictatorship under Cromwell as lord protector. After Cromwell's death in 1658 and the abdication of his incompetent son Richard , the monarchy was restored in 1660 under Charles II , the son of Charles I. Nevertheless, the English Civil War resulted in the consolidation of parliamentarism and the development of a parliamentary democracy in England.

Cromwell's penal trains

The submission of Ireland

In direct connection with the events of the English Civil War, Cromwell's penalties against Ireland and Scotland , which he undertook after the execution of Charles I. While the uprising of the Irish Catholics, which broke out in 1641, was initially directed against all English settlers, in the further course of the war they of necessity allied themselves with the English royalists and, since the "second" civil war, also with the Presbyterian Scots. After Parliament's victory over the crown, Cromwell wanted to enforce the rule of the English Republic in Ireland as well, making an example of the rebels. By 1649 the royalist James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde had succeeded in pushing the parliamentarians back to a few bases with Irish help. Only the Ulster and Dublin region could be mistaken for the English Republic. The rebellious Irish, however, were poorly equipped and mostly poorly organized. This was partly offset by the military knowledge that numerous Irish had acquired as mercenaries on mainland Europe. The Irish were also at least equal to their opponents in building fortifications. However, they lacked gunpowder , which is why they extracted saltpetre from the rotting corpses of English settlers who had been killed .

When Oliver Cromwell and his troops arrived in Ireland in August, the situation changed extremely quickly. The siege of Dublin by Irish and royalists was violently ended while Cromwell's forces began attacking Drogheda on Ireland's east coast on 9 September . They captured the city on September 11th, followed by a bloodbath. All of Drogheda's residents were killed or deported. After that, Cromwell's army moved further south until it captured the coastal town of Wexford on October 11 and there also killed or abducted the population. Against the backdrop of this brutally waged campaign, cities like Cork and Youghal took the parliamentary side to avoid their destruction. The attack on Kilkenny was unsuccessful and claimed numerous lives, so that Cromwell began negotiations with the garrison and granted her free retreat on March 28, 1650. In May, Cromwell's forces launched several unsuccessful assaults on the city of Clonmel , which was defended by Irish insurgents led by Hugh Dubh O'Neill . When the Irish had used up all their ammunition, they left town under cover of night so that the Roundheads could move in the next day. Due to the location in Scotland, Cromwell left Ireland a short time later and left a larger contingent of troops under the command of his son-in-law Henry Ireton . These troops broke the rest of the Irish resistance. On June 21st the rebellious Irish were defeated at the Battle of Scarrifholis and on August 10th the capitulation of their base in Waterford was forced. The campaign was continued in 1651 and directed against Limerick . The city defended by O'Neill surrendered on October 27 after promises of free retreat. Up to 1652 the Irish offered some resistance, but at that time Ireland was largely under the control of the English Republic.

The campaign against Scotland

The Scots, allied with the Royalists since 1648, suffered a heavy defeat at Preston, but the Scottish resistance was not broken by this battle. Therefore, Cromwell returned from Ireland in 1650 and organized a campaign against Scotland. This began with a victory for the parliamentary troops under Cromwell and General Monck at Dunbar . Scottish bases with medieval fortifications such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle quickly came under parliamentary control. In the following period, citadels were built in Scottish towns such as Ayr , Perth and Leith to enforce the rule of the English Republic. Further conflicts arose when Charles II , son of Charles I, who landed in Scotland in 1650 , invaded England with Scottish troops. The parliamentary troops under Cromwell faced them on September 3 at Worcester , where they won an open field battle over the Scots. With that, the Scottish resistance was also eliminated.

Character of war

Equipment and tactics

The armies fighting in the English Civil War hardly differed in their armament and fighting style from those of mainland Europe. The infantry consisted of about two-thirds of Thunderers , while with the remaining infantry to pikemen acted. The cavalry consisted of cuirassiers and arquebus riders . Then there were dragoons , infantrymen who rode light horses. In the infantry, only a few pikemen wore armor , which mostly consisted of a visorless helmet and chest and back armor . Such armor was also used by the cavalry as harquebus armor , but some cuirassiers wore plate armor that reached up to the knees. A curiosity was the cuirassier unit of Sir Arthur Haselrig, whose members without exception wore complete, red-colored plate armor and which were therefore known as London Lobsters ("London lobsters"). His armor saved Haselrig's life in a battle of 1643. In addition, a reinforced, but at the same time flexible leather garment ( buff coat ), which some soldiers wore under or instead of armor, was in use. Such a garment was significantly more expensive than a breastplate, which is why the use of a breastplate alone was more common. The head was usually protected by a simple English variant of the so-called zischägge , which was called pot . It was not yet common to wear uniforms, even if the New Model Army was to wear red uniform throughout. For logistical reasons, however, this could not be implemented, so that many parliamentary soldiers tied a piece of red cloth to identify themselves in battle. The royalists were mainly supplied with weapons from Catholic France , which were sent to Cornwall via the Canal. The Netherlands produced weapons and armaments on a large scale, with which they supplied all warring parties in both the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War. In the English Civil War the longbow was used for the last time by the English.

The order of battle in the battles of the English Civil War did not differ significantly from that which was customary in the late phase of the Thirty Years' War. The infantry formations became thinner and wider, while at the same time the number of pikemen posted in the center decreased. The cavalry positioned itself on the flanks of the army, which usually spread over the battlefield in up to three lines. A special feature was the fact that hardly any use of cannons was made in the field battles of the English Civil War . Nevertheless, the numerous muskets produced a strong powder vapor, which often caused confusion in the battle. Particularly feared was the Scottish charge carried out by the Scottish Highlanders ("Scottish attack"). The Highlanders fired a volley , then threw their muskets away and pulled out a melee weapon and a shield ( Targe ) to ward off bayonets . Protected from the enemy line of sight by the smoke from their volley, they took up a wedge formation and broke through the enemy line at one point. Most of the fighting in the English Civil War was siege .

See also


  • Jürgen Klein, "Theories of Revolution and the English Civil War", in: Göttingische Gelehre Ads. Under the supervision of the Academy of Sciences , Volume 235 (1983), Issue 1/2, pp. 73-103.
  • Martyn Bennett: The English Civil War - A Historical Companion , Stroud 2004. ISBN 0-7524-3186-2
  • Stanley DM Carpenter: Military Leadership in the British Civil Wars 1642-1651 - "The Genius of this Age" , Abingdon 2005. ISBN 0-7146-5544-9
  • David Cressy, England on Edge: Crisis and Authority, 1640-1642. New York 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-928090-2
  • Trevor Royle: Civil War - The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660 , London 2004. ISBN 0-316-86125-1
  • Lawrence Stone: The causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642 , London 2002. ISBN 0-415-26673-4
  • Mark Stoyle: Soldiers and Strangers - An ethnic History of the English Civil War , New Haven (Conn.) 2005. ISBN 0-300-10700-5
  • Malcolm Wanklyn / Frank Jones: A Military History of the English Civil War 1642-1646 , Harlow 2005. ISBN 0-582-77281-8
  • James Scott Wheeler: The Irish and British Wars 1637-1654 - Triumph, Tragedy and Failure , London 2002. ISBN 0-415-22131-5
  • Austin Woolrych: Britain in revolution 1625-1660 , Oxford 2002. ISBN 0-19-820081-1

Web links

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