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The English Civil War

Charles I became king of Great Britain and Ireland on 27th March 1625. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings (believing he was a representative of God) so decided to rule without a Parliament. 

Charles I (1640)

As he had no Parliament to give him money, he had to tax his people heavily and introduce unpleasant taxes like ‘ship money’ to pay for the building of new ships for the navy – this angered many people, especially those who didn’t live near the coast. 

During 1640 and 1641, Charles also had many arguments with Parliament, who tried to pass new laws to give greater control of government to them and reduce his powers.

On 4th January 1642 Charles I then burst into the House of Commons with 400 soldiers to arrest five Members of Parliament he accused of treason (trying to kill him). They all escaped but Charles I was now so unpopular that there were riots in London.

A few months later, a civil war broke out between the Roundheads (supporters of Parliament and led by Oliver Cromwell) and the Cavaliers (supporters of the king). Most of the big towns, including London and the south-east, supported Parliament. Wales, and the north and west of the country were in favour of the king.

The first major battle took place on 23rd October 1642 at Edgehill, near Birmingham.

Re-enactment - The Siege of Bolingbroke Castle - - 1777504

For the next few years, Charles and his ‘Royalists’ won most of their battles – they even trapped many ‘Parliamentarians’ inside their own homes until they surrendered (these were known as sieges). 

The Roundheads responded by creating a New Model Army of soldiers in 1645. They were well-equipped and wore new, red coats – the first ever army to wear a standard uniform. Their men also often wore ‘lobster pot’ helmets to help protect their: head, neck and face.

Morion helmet IMG 1292

Armies in the civil war had four kinds of soldiers in them:
  • pikemen carried long, wooden spears called pikes;
  • musketeers would fire heavy guns called muskets which were powered by gunpowder;
  • the cavalry were mounted on horses and carried swords and two pistols (which could fire one shot each);
  • dragoons were also mounted on horseback and were armed with guns called carbines.
Scene from recreation of Battle of Naseby

The fighting continued until 1646 when the king gave himself up to the Scots. Fearing the conflict would continue though, Oliver Cromwell decided to put Charles I on trial for treason. He was eventually executed on 30th January 1649 as a ‘Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer and a public enemy’.

The war had been very bloody, with an estimated 250,000 deaths.

England was then ruled by Parliament until 1653 when Oliver Cromwell, commander of the Cavaliers, became the Lord Protector of England. He held this post until his death in 1658 (when his son, Richard Cromwell, briefly took over). 

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Shortly afterwards, in 1660 when Richard Cromwell abdicated (left his position), the son of King Charles I was then asked to become King Charles II. This return of a king to the throne was known as the restoration.

King Charles II (Lely)

He worked in co-operation with a nominated Parliament to govern the land and so ruled a much happier, democratic society. He was even nicknamed ‘the Merry Monarch’ because he changed many of the laws Cromwell had made to give people more freedom to enjoy themselves.