English Civil War

English Civil War

There is a general debate among historians about precisely what started the English Civil War. While some historians hold that it was the disagreement among the king and the House of Lords and the House of Commons, others hold that this civil war was economically based. However, as this work will demonstrate both of these causes were inherently dependent upon each other and both of these causes are valid for the beginnings of the English Civil War.

While it is understood that the English Civil War resulted from the conflicts over the control of England, Scotland and Ireland, the events that led up to an ultimately resulte5d in the official start of this civil war are much debated. Historians have difficulty in understanding the actual causes of the beginning of the English Civil War. This is highlighted in the work of Ann Hughes entitled: "The Causes of the Civil War" which states that historians "face dilemmas inevitable in any historical analysis, but here particularly pressing. The desire for clarity and intelligibility comes into conflict with the need to offer a subtle nuanced account..." (1998)

The work of Valerie Pearl entitled: "The 'Royal Independent' in the English Civil War" states that there are few "historians of the Long Parliament" whom would "regard the form of Church government as the first concern of the parliamentary leaders in their negotiations with the king." (1967)


The work of Ashton and Parry entitled: "The English Civil War and After, 1642-1658" states that the members of the "Long Parliament were for the most part well-to-do landowners, nobility and gentry who shared similar social and educational backgrounds, similar economic interests and similar ideas on religion and politics." (1970) These individuals were adverse to the 'popish' ways of Archbishop Laud and his group who had been in domination of the church during the 1630s. However, they "...were not inclined towards Presbyterianism and they feared the more radical puritans and 'sectaries'. Although they had no love for bishops, most of them wished to keep Episcopal government of the church, provided that it could be reformed so as to be under the supervision of the common law and parliament and the squirearchy; and provided that the bishops were men of the same middle-of-the-road views in religion as most of the nobility and gentry." (Ashton and Parry, 1970) These individuals had no liking for the policies or the methods of Charles I in the 1630s and wondered if Charles I could be "trusted to act moderately and keep within the limits imposed on him by the legislation of the Long Parliament." (Ashton and Parry, 1970)

It was believed by the House of Common, by a majority and the House of Lords, by a minority that he could not since he was sill "surrounded by evil advisors." However, a majority of the House of Lords and a minority of the House of Commons "answered in the affirmative: the time had come to give the king the benefit of the doubt and not antagonize him further by restricting his rights to choose his own counselors and officers." (Ashton and Parry, 1970) Manning states that in the earlier part of 1642 there were only two small minorities that viewed resorting to force as being the only action possible. There were just a few of the royalists who were wholehearted who had been informing the king that "if he did not show a willingness to defend his rights by force he would never be able to stop the steady erosion of his power; and there were a few radical puritans who were ready to resort to force to bring about sweeping changes in the government and doctrine of the church." (Ashton and Parry, 1970)


The largest majority of the two Houses of Parliament, "of the nobility and gentry in general, of the government officers, of the lawyers, of the mayors and aldermen of towns, of the lading merchants, in other words the great bulk of the governing classes, still deplored the thought of resolving the disagreement by force, and still hoped for and expected agreement between the king, Lords and Commons." (Hughes, 1998) Even so, by 1642 they were being divided by the two parties:

1) parliamentarians - these held a distrust of the king and wanted more restrictions on the power held by the king at least temporarily until they gained trust in him holding a great deal of power again; and 2) royalists - these were not happy about the crown's power being reduced and wanted badly to trust the king.

This division was not over religion or politics and was a situation in which "men from the same social background and with the same economic interests, with similar political and religion ideas, found themselves in opposite parties..." (Hughes, 1998) in other words, the decision in 1642 was about nothing at all except simply whether to trust Charles I or not to trust him.

This is affirmed in the work of Mark Stoyle published in the Historical Journal (2000) Cambridge University Press in the work entitled: "English 'Nationalism', Celtic Particularism, and the English Civil War" which makes the suggestion that the English Civil War was, "...in part a conflict about national identity and ethnic difference." (Stoyle, 2000) Stated by Stoyle (2000) is that prior to the war, those who supported the parliament "...were associated with a narrowly intolerant strain of Englishness, and that this helps to explain why the Celtic peoples of Wales and Cornwall rallied to the king. During 1642-4, parliament's close links with the Scots - together with the presence of many foreign mercenaries in the roundhead armies - prevented the identification of parliament's cause with that of England itself from becoming absolute. Following the creation of the New Model Army, however - an army from which 'strangers' of all sorts were deliberately excluded - relations between the Scots and parliament rapidly deteriorated, and it became possible for the parliamentarians to make an unequivocal appeal to English patriotic sentiment. The defeat of the king - and of the Welsh and Cornish troops who had done much to sustain his cause - was the result." (Stoyle, 2000)

Hughes writes in "The Causes of the English Civil War" that this war was described by Conrad Russell as "a country that could not fight; it was in a condition of 'functional breakdown'..." which is a term that "sums up the structural weaknesses of the English crown in a period of inflation and faced with a military revolution." (1998)

The civil war is stated by Hughes to have been "in many ways a reaction to the attempts of Charles I to rectify these weaknesses..." (1998) These problems were not only "...inextricably interrelated" but were as well "mutually reinforcing." (Hughes, 1998) First the English monarchy was financially, administratively and in terms of their military much worse off than were some continental rulers. The reason for the extremely weak financial base of the English Monarchy was the lack of a "permanent direct national taxation" and this resulted in monarchs being dependent "on ordinary income from crown lands, feudal dues such as wardship and customs and on grants authorized by Parliament from time to time." (Hughes, 1998) There was no "extensive and reliable bureaucracy" and as well there was the lack of a standing army which was needed "from the enforcement of law and order to the collection of taxes" (Hughes, 1998). Therefore, the Monarchy at this time depended on "the unpaid cooperation of local elites." (Hughes, 1998)

Further complicating and entrenching the financial problems of the Monarchy was inflation and the rising financial demands of war. For example, during this time while the income of royalty doubled the prices of grain "rose sixfold." (Hughes, 1998) it is stated that the general expenses of the government were likely to have risen "at least five-fold and the costs of war more still." (Hughes, 1998) a great deal of royal land was sold during the war to clear royal debts and by 1642 Hughes states that there was no royal land left to pawn or sell.


The work of Mark Stoyle entitled: "Soldiers and Strangers" states that there was a great fear to accompany the humiliation of the English by the presence of the Scots army in England and he states "Such fears were most commonly expressed by supporters of the king; anti-Scottish sentiment lay at the very heart of the nascent English Royalist party. Yet the Treaty of Ripon did not just mark the humiliation of a single English faction: it ushered in a period of humiliation of the nation as a whole." (2005)

During the period between August 1640 and August 1641, Stoyle (2005) states that "...the presence of the Scottish army served as a constant affront to English pride and - as the political conflict between king and Parliament in London intensified - so…