|First English Civil War|
|Part of the English Civil War|
The Battle of Marston Moor, by James Barker
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
The First English Civil War was fought in England and Wales, from August 1642 to June 1646. It forms one of the conflicts known collectively as the 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which also took place in Scotland and Ireland. These include the 1638 to 1640 Bishops' Wars, the Irish Confederate Wars, the Second English Civil War, the Third English Civil War, and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
It is estimated that from 1638 to 1651, 15-20% of all adult males in England and Wales served in the military, and around 4% of the total population died from war-related causes, compared to 2.23% in World War I. These figures are important in understanding the impact of the conflict on society, and the bitterness it engendered.
In 1642, the vast majority supported the institution of monarchy, but disagreed on who held ultimate political power. Those who supported Charles I in his claim to be above Parliament were known as Royalists, while their Parliamentarian opponents backed constitutional monarchy. This simplifies a very complex reality, and the choice often came down to personal loyalties.
In August 1642, both sides expected the conflict to be settled by a single battle, but it soon became clear this was not to be the case. Royalist success in 1643 led to Parliament agreeing to a military alliance with the Scots Covenanters, and winning a series of battles in 1644, the most significant being the Battle of Marston Moor. The formation of the New Model Army gave Parliament the first professional military force in England, and their success at Naseby in June 1645 proved decisive.
The war ended with victory for Parliament in June 1646, and Charles in custody. His refusal to agree to significant concessions, and divisions among the victors, led to the Second English Civil War in 1648.
The 1642 to 1646 First English Civil War is one of a series of connected conflicts in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Known collectively as the 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, they include the Irish Confederate Wars, the 1638 to 1640 Bishops' Wars, and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Separately, it forms part of the 1642 to 1651 English Civil War, which is divided into three segments; the First (1642-1646), Second (1648-1649), and Third (1649-1651). Some argue the latter is actually an Anglo-Scottish War, since it was fought between Scots and English armies, and not accompanied by an uprising in England.
The struggle for control between the monarchy and Parliament began in 1603 when James VI and I became king and resurfaced after the 1660 Stuart Restoration. It was only resolved with the 1688 Glorious Revolution, and arguably continued beyond that point; American historian Kevin Phillips identified many similarities between those at stake in 1642 and the American Revolution in 1776.
Presenting the two parties as Cavaliers, 'wrong, but romantic', and Roundheads, 'right, but repulsive', has long been accepted as outdated, but still informs modern perceptions. Historians like Tim Harris argue by 1640 there was a general consensus that attempts by Charles to govern without Parliament had gone too far. After the Grand Remonstrance was submitted in late 1641, moderates like Clarendon switched sides, arguing Parliament was seeking to change the balance too much the other way.
Where John Pym, leader of the Parliamentary opposition, differed from Clarendon and most of his own colleagues was in recognising Charles would not keep commitments he considered forced on him. An example was his annulment of the 1628 Petition of Right, while he and his wife Henrietta Maria openly told foreign ambassadors any concessions were temporary, and would be retrieved by force. It was also consistent with his approach in the Bishops Wars, when he only agreed peace terms with the Scots in 1639 to provide time for another attempt in 1640.
Regardless of religion or political belief, the vast majority in all three kingdoms believed a 'well-ordered' monarchy was divinely mandated. They disagreed on what 'well-ordered' meant, and who held ultimate authority, especially in clerical affairs; this mattered, because in the 17th century 'true religion' and 'good government' were assumed to be the same. Royalists generally supported a Church of England governed by bishops, appointed by, and answerable to, the king; most Parliamentarians believed he was answerable to the leaders of the church, appointed by their congregations.
The idea "Puritan" and "Roundhead" were the same thing is incorrect; the term meant anyone who wanted to 'purify' the Church of England of "Papist" practices and covered a wide range of views. While the majority supported Parliament, some like Sir William Savile supported Charles out of personal loyalty. Many Royalists strongly opposed the appointment of Catholic officers, while the integration of Irish troops in 1643 caused some regiments to mutiny. Puritans were also divided between Presbyterians like Pym who wanted to reform the Church of England and religious Independents who rejected the very idea of state-mandated religion. They included Congregationalists like Oliver Cromwell and Baptists.
Objections to bishops were based on political as well as religious grounds. They acted as state censors, able to ban sermons and writings considered objectionable, while lay people could be tried by church courts for crimes including blasphemy, heresy, fornication and other 'sins of the flesh', as well as matrimonial or inheritance disputes. Bishops also sat in the House of Lords and often blocked legislation opposed by the Crown; their ousting from Parliament by the 1640 Clergy Act was a major step on the road to war. Their removal ended censorship and led to an explosion in the printing of pamphlets, books and sermons, many advocating radical religious and political principles, especially in London.
Even before 1642, this radicalism concerned men like Denzil Holles, conservatives who believed in a limited electorate and a Presbyterian church similar to the Church of Scotland. As the war progressed, both they and their colleagues in Scotland came to see the Independents as more dangerous than the Royalists; an alliance between these groups led to the Second English Civil War in 1648. Lastly, England in 1642 was a structured, socially conservative and peaceful society, while the example of the Thirty Years War meant many wanted to avoid conflict at any cost. Choice of sides was often driven by personal relationships or loyalties, and in the early stages there were numerous examples of armed neutrality, or local truces, designed to force the two sides to negotiate.
Over the winter of 1641 to 1642, many towns strengthened their defences, and purchased weapons, although this was not necessarily in response to fears of conflict between Charles and his Parliament. Lurid details of the 1641 Irish Rebellion meant many were more concerned by reports of a planned Catholic invasion.
Although both sides supported raising troops to suppress the Irish rising, alleged Royalist conspiracies to use them against Parliament meant neither trusted the other with their control. When Charles left London after failing to arrest the Five Members in January 1642, he handed Parliament control of the largest city, port and commercial centre in England, its biggest weapons store in the Tower of London, and best equipped local militia, or Trained bands.
Founded in 1572, these were organised by county, controlled by Lord-lieutenants appointed by the king, and constituted the only permanent military force in the country. The muster roll of February 1638 shows wide variations in size, equipment and training; Yorkshire had the largest, with 12,000 men, followed by London with 8,000, later increased to 20,000. 'Royalist' counties like Shropshire or Glamorgan had fewer than 500 men.
In March 1642, Parliament approved the Militia Ordinance, claiming control of the trained bands; Charles responded with his own Commissions of Array. More important than the men were the local arsenals, with Parliament holding the two largest in London, and Hull. These belonged to the local community, who often resisted attempts to remove them, by either side. In Royalist Cheshire, the towns of Nantwich, Knutsford and Chester declared a state of armed neutrality, and excluded both parties.
Ports were vital for access to internal and external waterways, the primary method of importing and transporting bulk supplies until the advent of railways in the 19th century. Most of the Royal Navy declared for Parliament, allowing them to protect the trade routes vital to the London merchant community and block Royalist imports. It also made other countries wary of antagonising one of the strongest navies in Europe by providing support to their opponents. By September, forces loyal to Parliament held every major port in England apart from Newcastle, which prevented Royalist areas in Wales, South-West and North-East England from supporting each other. In February 1642, Charles sent his wife, Henrietta Maria, to the Hague to raise money and purchase weapons; lack of a secure port delayed her return until February 1643, and even then, she narrowly escaped capture.
On 1 June 1642, Parliament approved a list of proposals known as the Nineteen Propositions, which would give them control over ministerial appointments, the army and management of the Royal household, including the education and marriage of his children. These were presented to Charles at Newmarket, who angrily rejected them without further discussion. He was later persuaded to issue a more conciliatory answer, whose objective was primarily to appeal to moderates by placing blame for what now seemed an inevitable military conflict on Pym and his followers. Drafted by Hyde, this response has been seen as the origin of "mixed" or Constitutional monarchy, although whether Charles himself genuinely believed in it is debatable.
Both sides expected a single battle and quick victory; for the Royalists, this meant capturing London, for Parliament, 'rescuing' the king from his 'evil counsellors.' After failing to capture Hull in July, Charles left York for Nottingham, chosen for its proximity to Royalist areas in the Midlands and Northern Wales. Particularly in the early stages of the conflict, locally raised troops were reluctant to serve outside their own county, and most of the Royalist troops raised in Yorkshire refused to accompany him.
On 22 August, Charles formally declared war on Parliamentarian 'rebels', but by early September his army consisted of only 1,500 horse and 1,000 infantry, with much of England hoping to remain neutral. Financing from the London mercantile community and weapons from the Tower enabled Parliament to recruit and equip an army of 20,000. It was commanded by the Presbyterian Earl of Essex, who left London on 3 September for Northampton. Charles relocated to Shrewsbury, further away from London, but a key Royalist recruitment centre throughout the war. When Essex learned of this, he marched on Worcester, where the first major encounter of the war took place at Powick Bridge on 23 September. A relatively minor Royalist victory, it established the reputation of Prince Rupert, and gained a psychological edge over the Parliamentarian cavalry.
The Royalist army now numbered around 15,000, although much of the infantry were armed with clubs or scythes. While better equipped, Essex' force was half-trained, poorly disciplined, and his logistics inadequate to support such numbers. Charles headed for London, while Essex tried to prevent it; on 23 October, the two armies fought a bloody, chaotic, and indecisive battle at Edgehill. Essex continued retreating towards London; after an inconclusive encounter on 16 November at Turnham Green, west of London, operations ended for the winter. The Royalists withdrew to Oxford, which became their capital for the rest of the war. Elsewhere, Sir William Waller secured the south-east for Parliament; in December, Lord Wilmot captured Marlborough, opening communications between Oxford, and Royalist forces based at Launceston, in Cornwall.
The events of 1642 showed the need to plan for a lengthy conflict. For the Royalists, this meant fortifying their new capital in Oxford, and connecting areas of support in England and Wales; Parliament focused on consolidating control of the areas they already held. Although peace talks were held, both parties continued to negotiate for Scots and Irish support; Charles sought to end the war in Ireland, allowing troops from the Royal Irish Army to be used to support the Royalists in England.
Fighting continued during the winter in Yorkshire, as Royalist leader Newcastle tried to secure a landing place for an arms shipment from the Dutch Republic. With insufficient troops to hold the entire area, his task was complicated by Parliamentarian forces under Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas, which retained key towns like Hull and Leeds. The weapons convoy carrying Henrietta Maria finally managed to land at Bridlington in late February; on 4 June she left York escorted by 5,000 cavalry, arriving in Oxford in mid-July.
In the south-west, Royalist commander Sir Ralph Hopton secured Cornwall with victory at Braddock Down in January. In June, he advanced into Wiltshire, inflicting a serious defeat on Waller's 'Army of the Southern Association' at Roundway Down on 13 July. Arguably the most comprehensive Royalist victory of the war, it isolated Parliament's garrisons in the west and Prince Rupert stormed Bristol on 26 July. This gave the Royalists control of the second largest city in Britain and landing point for reinforcements from Ireland.
By late August, the Parliamentarian cause was close to collapse but was saved by Pym's leadership and determination, which resulted in important reforms. Both sides struggled to properly supply troops fighting outside their home regions and Parliament agreed steps to mitigate the problem. Seeing an opportunity to force Parliamentary moderates into a negotiated peace, in September the Royalists agreed a new three-part offensive. After taking Gloucester, Prince Rupert would advance on London, while Newcastle would tied down the Eastern Association army by advancing into East Anglia and Lincolnshire. Finally, Hopton would march into Hampshire and Sussex, threatening London from the south, and closing the iron foundries that were Parliament's main source of armaments.
However, Essex forced Prince Rupert to retreat from Gloucester, then checked his advance on London at Newbury on 20 September. Although Hopton reached Winchester, Waller prevented him making further progress; in October, Newcastle abandoned the second siege of Hull, while victory at Winceby secured eastern England for Parliament. Royalist failure ended any chance of concluding the war in the near future, leading both sides to step up the search for allies.
In September, the Royalists in Ireland agreed a truce with the Catholic Confederation, allowing Ormond to transfer troops to England but cost Charles the support of many Irish Protestants, especially in Munster. At the same time, details emerged of the "Antrim scheme", an alleged plan to use 20,000 Irish troops to recapture Southern Scotland for Charles; although highly impractical, the Covenanter government ended negotiations with the Royalists. Shortly thereafter, they signed the Solemn League and Covenant, agreeing to provide Parliament military backing in return for subsidies, and discussions on creating a single, Presbyterian church.
The Solemn League created a Committee of Both Kingdoms to co-ordinate strategy in all three war zones, England, Scotland and Ireland, although Pym's death in December 1643 deprived Parliament of their most important leader. The Scots under Leven were ordered to take Newcastle, securing coal supplies for London, and closing the major import point for Royalist war supplies. He besieged the town in early February, but made little progress, observed by the Earl of Newcastle from his base in Durham.
On 29 March, Waller ended the offensive in Southern England by defeating Hopton at Cheriton, then joined Essex to threaten Oxford. Two weeks later, the Earl of Manchester defeated a Royalist force at Selby, forcing Newcastle to leave Durham and garrison York. The city was besieged by the Scots, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and Manchester's Army of the Eastern Association.
In May, Prince Rupert left Shrewsbury, and marched north, capturing Liverpool and Bolton en route. To avoid being shut up in Oxford, a field army nominally commanded by Charles retreated to Worcester; Essex ordered Waller to remain there, while he went west to relieve the siege of Lyme Regis. On 29 June, Waller clashed with Charles at Cropredy Bridge; although losses were minimal, his men were demoralised, and the army disintegrated, allowing Charles to pursue Essex into the West Country.
On the same day, Prince Rupert arrived at Knaresborough, 30 kilometres from York, to find himself facing a superior force. In the largest battle of the war on 2 July, the two armies met at Marston Moor, a decisive Royalist defeat that lost them the North. York surrendered on 16 July, and the Earl of Newcastle went into exile.
Essex forced the Royalists to abandon Lyme Regis, then continued into Cornwall, ignoring orders to return to London. In September, his army was trapped at Lostwithiel; 5,000 infantry were forced to surrender, although Essex and the cavalry escaped. At Second Newbury on 27 October, the Royalists lifted the siege of Donnington Castle, and Charles re-entered Oxford.
In military terms, by the end of 1644 the Royalists had recovered from the disaster at Marston Moor; of greater concern was their ability to finance the war. Unlike Parliament, which could levy taxes on imports and exports through London and other commercial centres, the Royalists simply took supplies from the areas they controlled. This led to the creation of Clubmen, or local self-defence associations; they opposed confiscations by either party, but were a bigger issue in Royalist areas like Cornwall and Hertfordshire.
The deaths of John Pym and John Hampden in 1643 removed a unifying force within Parliament, and deepened divisions. Supported by the Scots, the 'Peace Party' were concerned by political radicals like the Levellers, and wanted an immediate, negotiated settlement. The 'War Party' fundamentally mistrusted Charles, and saw military victory as the only way to secure their objectives. Many were religious Independents who opposed any state church, and strongly objected to Scottish demands for a unified, Presbyterian church of England and Scotland; Oliver Cromwell claimed he would fight, rather than accept such an outcome.
Failure to exploit Marston Moor, Essex' capitulation at Lostwithiel, and Manchester's alleged unwillingness to fight at Newbury led to claims some senior commanders were not committed to victory. Accusations against Manchester and Essex in particular were not confined to Cromwell, but shared by some Presbyterians, including Waller. In December, Sir Henry Vane introduced the Self-denying Ordinance, requiring any military officers who also sat in Parliament to resign one office or the other. Manchester and Essex were automatically removed, since they could not resign their titles, although they could be re-appointed, 'if Parliament approved.'
It also led to the creation of the New Model Army, a centralised, professional force, able and willing to operate wherever needed. Many of its recruits had served with Cromwell in the Eastern Association, or shared his views, and opponents viewed the New Model with suspicion from the outset. To offset this, they appointed the moderates Fairfax and Philip Skippon as Commander-in-Chief and head of the infantry respectively, as well as retaining some regional forces. These included the Northern and Western Associations, plus those serving in Cheshire and South Wales, all commanded by supporters of the Presbyterian faction in Parliament. Although he remained an MP, Cromwell was given command of the cavalry, under a 'temporary' three-month commission, constantly renewed.
In January, representatives of both sides met at Uxbridge to discuss peace terms, but talks ended without agreement in February. Failure strengthened the pro-war parties, since it was clear Charles would never make concessions voluntarily, while divisions among their opponents encouraged the Royalists to continue fighting.
In early 1645, the Royalists still controlled most of the West Country, Wales, and counties along the English border, despite losing their key supply base at Shrewsbury in February. Lord Goring's Western Army made another attempt on Portsmouth and Farnham; although he was forced to retreat, it showed Parliament could not assume this area was secure, while Montrose's Highland Campaign opened another front in the war.
On 31 May, Prince Rupert stormed Leicester; in response, Fairfax and the New Model Army abandoned their blockade of Oxford, and on 14 June, won a decisive victory at Naseby. Defeat cost the Royalists their most formidable field army, along with their artillery train, stores, and Charles' personal baggage. This included his private correspondence, detailing efforts to gain support from the Irish Catholic Confederation, the Papacy and France. Published by Parliament in a pamphlet entitled The King's Cabinet Opened, it seriously damaged his reputation.
After Naseby, Royalist strategy was to preserve their positions in the West and Wales, while taking their cavalry north to link up with Montrose in Scotland. Charles also hoped the Confederation would supply him 10,000 Irish troops, who would land in Bristol, then combine with Lord Goring to smash the New Model. These plans were largely fantasy, and the only result was to deepen divisions among the Royalist leadership.
Concerned by the wider implications of Royalist defeat, French chief minister Cardinal Mazarin now looked for ways to restore Charles with minimal French intervention. Talks were held between his representative, de Montereul, and Lord Lothian, a senior Covenanter who was deeply suspicious of Cromwell and the Independents. Ultimately, these made little progress.
Prince Rupert was sent to supervise the defence of Bristol and the West, while Charles made his way to Raglan Castle, then headed for the Scottish border. He reached as far north as Doncaster in Yorkshire, before retreating to Oxford in the face of superior Parliamentarian forces. In July, Fairfax lifted the siege of Taunton; a few days later at Langport, he destroyed Lord Goring's Western Army, the last significant Royalist field force.
At the end of August, Charles left Oxford to relieve Hereford, which was besieged by the Covenanter army; as he approached, Leven was ordered to return to Scotland, following Montrose's victory at Kilsyth. The king moved onto Chester, where he learned Prince Rupert had surrendered Bristol on 10 September; shocked by the loss, Charles dismissed his nephew.
A detachment from the New Model under Colonel Rainsborough captured Berkeley Castle, another led by Cromwell took Royalist positions at Basing House and Winchester. Having secured his rear, Fairfax began reducing remaining positions in the west; by now, Clubmen militia in Hampshire and Dorset were as big an issue as the Royalist army.
After his remaining cavalry were scattered at Rowton Heath on 24 September, Charles returned to Newark. On 13 October, news reached him of Montrose's defeat at Philiphaugh a month earlier, ending plans for taking the war into Scotland. The loss of Carmarthen and Chepstow in South Wales cut connections with Irish Royalists (see Map), forcing Charles back to Oxford, where he spent the winter besieged by the New Model.
Following the fall of Hereford in December 1645, the Royalists held only Devon, Cornwall, North Wales, and isolated garrisons in Exeter, Oxford, Newark, and Scarborough Castle. Chester surrendered in February, after which the Northern Association Army joined the Covenanters besieging Newark. Hopton replaced Lord Goring as commander of the Western Army, and attempted to relieve Exeter. Defeated by the New Model at Torrington on 16 February, he surrendered at Truro on 12 March.
The last pitched battle of the war took place at Stow-on-the-Wold on 21 March, when 3,000 Royalists were dispersed by Parliamentary forces. With the end of the war in sight, Parliament issued a proclamation, allowing favourable terms for any Royalists who 'compounded' prior to 1 May. Those whose estates had been confiscated could regain them on payment of a fine, which was calculated on the value of their lands, and level of support; many took advantage of this.
After capturing Exeter and Barnstaple in April, the New Model marched on Oxford; on 27 April, Charles left the city in disguise, accompanied by two others. Parliament learned of his escape on 29th, but for over a week had no idea where he was. On 6 May, they received a letter from David Leslie, the Scottish commander at Newark, announcing he had Charles in custody. Newark surrendered the same day, and the Scots went north to Newcastle, taking the king with them. This led to furious objections from Parliament, who approved a resolution ordering the Scots to leave England immediately. 
After lengthy negotiations, Oxford capitulated on 24 June; the garrison received passes to return home, Prince Rupert and his brother, Prince Maurice, were ordered to leave England. Wallingford Castle surrendered on 27 July, then the remaining Royalist strongholds, although Harlech Castle in Wales held out until 13 March 1647.
In 1642, many Parliamentarians assumed military defeat would force Charles to agree terms, which proved a fundamental misunderstanding of his character. In August 1645, Prince Rupert suggested the war could no longer be won; Charles wrote back that he agreed, if seen from a military viewpoint, but 'God will not suffer rebels and traitors to prosper'. This deeply-held conviction meant he refused to agree any substantial concessions, frustrating both allies and opponents.
Although Charles correctly assumed widespread support for the institution of monarchy made his position extremely strong, he failed to appreciate the impact of his constant prevarications, both before and during the war. He made peace with the Scots in 1639, then raised an army against them in 1640; his actions prior to March 1642 convinced Parliament he would not keep his promises, and any money they supplied would be employed against them. At one point in 1645, he was negotiating separately with the Irish Confederation, the English Independents, the Covenanters, English Presbyterians, France, and the Papacy.
This created a political grouping that believed a political settlement could not be agreed with Charles, and the ability to enforce it in the New Model Army. Often grouped together as 'Independents', the reality was far more fluid; Sir Thomas Fairfax was a Presbyterian, who fought for Charles in 1639, and refused to participate in his execution, while even Cromwell initially viewed him with great respect.
Charles continued to stall, to the increasing frustration of all parties, especially members of the New Model, many of whom had not been paid for over a year, and wanted to go home. In March 1647, moderates in Parliament led by Denzil Holles decided to remove the threat by sending the army to Ireland; only those who agreed would receive their arrears. When regimental representatives, or Agitators, demanded full payment for all in advance, Parliament disbanded the New Model, which refused. Although both Cromwell and Fairfax were disturbed by the radicalism shown by parts of the army, they sympathised with them over pay, and took their side against Parliament. These tensions led to the outbreak of the Second English Civil War in 1648.