The English Civil War: wars against the monarchy, or a useless king? By Alice McGregor, Cardinal Hume Catholic School, Gateshead.

Triple-portrait-King-Charles-I-Anthony-van-Dyck-1635-16361642 saw the start of the first real crisis in the English monarchy, with the English Civil War. 200 years prior to this there were the Wars of the Roses fought between the houses of Lancaster and York, which were steeped with great significance in English history, yet they did not question the existence of monarchy, only the identity of the ruling monarch. The country was split into two: Parliamentarians, or Roundheads and Royalists, or Cavaliers.

Without becoming bogged down in the details of the wars, we can offer a simple outline. Historians have broken it down into three major periods of conflict: 1642 to 1646, 1648 to 1649, and 1649 to 1651. This immediately puts into question the simple idea of Parliamentarian success. Although, the Parliamentarians did succeed in the first and second periods of conflict, the fact of three different periods of conflict within 10 years seems to show how there was opposition to the new order and that there was still at least some support for the monarchist cause.

The support for the English monarchy was not localised: Ireland, long fed up with Cromwell’s ruthless agenda against the Irish Catholics, allied with the English Monarchy in 1648. Although, this would prove to be of little use after 1653 when Irish-Royalist surrendered to the Parliamentarians.

RichardCromwellCharles II’s restoration does not necessarily show the failure of the Parliamentarians. The restoration only came after the death of Cromwell, and nine years before he was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 which forced him live in exile in France. Therefore, to say that Charles II became the English King due to the weakness of the Republic, would be to ignore the successes of the Republic whilst Cromwell lived. The weakness of the Commonwealth was only evident once Richard Cromwell (above) took the place of Oliver after his death. Tumbledown Dick was a poor leader, lacking the military prowess and authority that his father had. If the weakness of Richard Cromwell brought about the restoration of the monarchy, we might say that the strength of Oliver Cromwell explains the success of the protectorate. It was all about leadership.

The reign of Charles I was fraught with conflict, which makes it no surprise that the Parliamentary cause gained so much more support than it previously would have. The Bishops’ Wars instigated by Charles’ fear of threats against his authority, shown by the opposition to religious policy during the reign. Furthermore, the crown was broke, thanks to the foreign policy of Elizabeth and James I. His Personal Rule, without resort to Parliament including the raise of taxes, such as ship money, caused great opposition.

However, the rule of Oliver Cromwell seemed to be of little relief to many. The imposition of the Puritan religion and the persecution of the Irish Catholics, many felt they were no better off than before the parliamentary victory.

800px-Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_Cooper

Perhaps we might better see the period of the English Civil war not as revolutionary, but rather removal of Charles I for a more adequate monarch, such as his son would turn out to be.

Charles_II_of_England_in_Coronation_robes

 

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