The English Civil War (1642–1651)

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The English Civil War (1642–1651)

Major Figures

Charles I

Charles I (1600–1649) succeeded James I to the throne of England and Scotland. Religious and financial strife during his reign brought about the English Civil War. He was executed for treason.

Prince Charles

Charles was born to Queen Anne in November 1600, three years before his father, King James IV of Scotland, became King James I of England. The boy suffered from ill health and developmental delays, but, with the care of his governess and tutors, he became healthy enough to perfect his equestrianism and marksmanship. Upon the death of his older brother, Henry, in 1612, Charles became heir to the throne. His introverted nature and high morals made him unpopular at his father’s court.

In 1619, England became involved with the Thirty Years War between continental Catholic and Protestant nations. Parliament supported the latter, but with the help of his favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, King James unsuccessfully sought a Catholic Spanish princess to be Charles’s bride. These negotiations fell apart and Parliament disapproved of any Catholic match. Nevertheless, Charles, who became King Charles I after his father died in March 1625, married the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria, daughter of King Henri IV of France.

Personal Rule

Despite the marriage, in 1627 England declared war on France and Spain. Parliament refused to fund the war, so Charles bypassed it to collect funds by means of taxes Parliament did not approve. Frustrated by continued opposition, which was aggravated by religious tensions, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1629. For eleven years (a period known as “Personal Rule”), Charles governed without Parliament. During this time, he made peace with Spain and France, ending the need to fund campaigns. (He also had a connoisseur’s eye, and during this period formed perhaps the finest collection of art in Europe.)

As monarch, Charles was head of the Anglican High Church, which had separated from the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII (1491–1547). While distinct, lingering similarities between the two churches made the Anglicans suspect in the eyes of many other Protestants, including the Kirk of Scotland, which was Calvinist. Charles’s attempt to introduce the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Book of Canons to Scotland led to war in 1639.

With royal finances strained by campaigns against Scotland, Charles recalled Parliament in April 1640. This so-called “Short Parliament” held session for not even a month before Charles, still unwilling to yield to Parliament’s demands, dismissed it again. Charles’s Scottish opponents, the Covenanters, attacked England until agreeing to a truce that was financially costly for Charles. The following November, Charles summoned Parliament again.

The Start of the Civil War

When Ireland rebelled in 1641, once again Charles and Parliament had to confront issues of military funding and control. To prevent Parliament from usurping royal privilege, which Charles viewed as a divinely granted right, Charles entered Parliament to arrest some of its members, including Oliver Cromwell. Charles failed, and the result was an army split in loyalties: Royalists against the Parliamentarians, with whom the Scottish Covenanters allied themselves.

Charles’s forces seemed to gain the upper hand during 1642, the first year of the war, but Parliament’s New Model Army defeated them at such battles as Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645). Charles attempted to exploit the infirm alliances among his opponents, which were underscored by religious differences, but the king’s adherence to his Anglican High Church ideals—and his seeking aid from Catholic France—made him all the more suspect to many English and Scottish Protestants. Finally, after negotiating terms with the Scots, on May 6, 1646, the king gave himself up to their army.

Charles in Captivity

With king and Kirk unable to find common ground, and with financial troubles brewing between the Scots and Parliament, in February 1647 Charles left Scottish army custody for Parliamentarian. His scheming negotiations, plots with the queen (who was in France), and Catholic sympathies, cost him whatever good faith he might once have gained. Fearing assassination by the New Model Army, in early November, the king escaped from custody at Hampton Court.

Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, where he was again held captive. Several Royalist armies rose up with the Scots against the Parliamentarians, but this second civil war was put down in 1648. Charles was blamed for this outbreak and although some members of Parliament came to terms with the king, the New Model Army demanded a trial and execution.

The King is Dead

The army forced the issue with a coup that December. Charles was sentenced to death. Charles himself gave the executioner the sign to bring down the single blow that severed his head on January 30, 1649.

England was kingless under Cromwell until 1660, when Charles I’s eldest son was crowned Charles II (1630–1685).

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) was born into a family of modest fortune. Driven by Puritan religious zeal, he rose to prominence in Parliament and displayed good military leadership during the English Civil War. He ruled England as Protector from 1653 until his death.

Cromwell’s Youth and Early Career

Cromwell grew up as the only surviving son among the seven daughters of Robert Cromwell and Elizabeth Steward. The family had once been quite wealthy but was in financial decline by the time Cromwell was born. In 1616 he began to attend Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, but Cromwell failed to receive a degree when his father’s death cut short his pursuits the next year.

Member of Parliament

Cromwell married in 1620, the same year he took over the family estate in Huntingdon. He represented Huntingdon in Parliament, but locally found himself on the losing side of a political argument regarding a religious appointment. This ultimately resulted in a short period of imprisonment in 1630. Either a couple of years before or after this event, Cromwell arrived at some deep religious insight that led him to become entrenched in uncompromising anti-Catholic Puritanism. This put him deeply at odds with the king, who was in a period of Personal Rule during which Parliament did not meet. The king’s Catholic sympathies made him suspect by Puritan members of Parliament.

An inheritance returned Cromwell to prosperity six years later. When Charles summoned Parliament again in 1640, Cromwell (representing Cambridge) joined the opposition. Some historians suggest that Cromwell, rather than rising to prominence entirely on his own merits and drive, was initially an agent for others. Whether or not this is true, even before Charles declared war on his opponents in August 1642, Cromwell stopped the king from obtaining silver from the Cambridge colleges for the looming civil war.

Military Career

Cromwell began the war as a captain, but by early the next year rose to colonel. Although Royalist forces had the upper hand in 1643, that year Cromwell achieved notable battlefield victories, and his involvement was critical to Parliamentarian victory in 1644 at Marston Moor. These successes confirmed divine favor in Cromwell’s eyes but were in fact due to his self confidence, good tactics, good administration, and his attention to his men.

Military successes aside, Cromwell was at odds with the leadership of his own faction. Some seemed too willing to compromise with the Royalists. Cromwell also suspected—correctly, as it turned out—that Parliament’s Scottish allies would try to impose Presbyterianism upon England.

In 1645, Cromwell helped draft the Self-Denying Ordinance, which created the New Model Army. Contrary to the terms of the Ordinance, Cromwell, a member of Parliament, kept his military commission and was appointed second in command of the army under Sir Thomas Fairfax. Cromwell’s forces were important in the Royalist defeat at Naseby that same year.

After Charles I came into Parliamentarian custody in February 1647, Cromwell and other Independents remained at odds with the majority Presbyterians. The latter wanted to disband the New Model Army and bring its soldiers to Ireland to quash a rebellion started in 1641.

Charles’s brief escape led to the 1648 Royalist invasion from Scotland, which Cromwell and Fairfax put down. While Parliament tried to negotiate with the king, the New Model Army called for a trial. Cromwell approved the ensuing coup, in which the army rid Parliament of those with Royalist sympathies, resulting in the much smaller Rump Parliament. Initially reluctant to try Charles, when the trial actually began, Cromwell supported the sentence of execution.

The king was executed in January 1649. The next year, Cromwell brought twelve thousand soldiers to Ireland to put down the Catholic rebellion. Sieges of Drogheda and other cities and towns were especially brutal. Cromwell next turned his attention to Scotland, where the Scots had declared Charles II king. Upon Fairfax’s resignation, Cromwell was appointed Lord General of the Army, and he led the outnumbered army to victory at Dunbar in 1650, and then to a final victory in 1651 at the Battle of Worcester.

The Protectorate

The Rump Parliament, whose performance dissatisfied Cromwell, was dissolved. In December 1653, a new constitution (which continued to undergo revision throughout his rule) was drawn up. This Instrument of Government named Cromwell Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, an office to which he was appointed for life.

His rule of Britain was authoritarian, and the Protectorate court performed much like the royal court, with Cromwell taking over many of the functions of the monarch and adopting the address “His Highness.” Like kings before him, he dissolved Parliament on occasion, but the constitution limited his powers and in certain matters he had to function with a Protectoral Council. In 1657, Parliament offered him the crown. Possibly at the urging of the military, which had fought hard to defeat the monarchy, Cromwell declined.

Cromwell died the following year, possibly of malaria contracted on campaign. His son Richard served as Protector until 1659. The following year the monarchy was restored, in the person of Charles II. In 1661 Oliver Cromwell’s corpse was disinterred from Westminster Abbey, hanged, and beheaded.

Charles II

Son of Charles I, the future Charles II (1630–1685) was sent into exile as a youth during the English Civil War. His return and coronation as king of England began the period known as the English Restoration.

Before the Civil War

Charles was the eldest of the surviving sons of King Charles I of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and his French wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. A good horseman like his father, the young Charles markedly lacked the morals that his father had demonstrated in his youth. Always given to excesses of pleasure, he would go on to father more than a dozen illegitimate children.

The Prince of Wales in Exile

Fiscal and religious discord brought Charles I and Parliament to civil war in 1642. Charles, Prince of Wales, was in command of troops and, with his brother James, narrowly avoided capture while being escorted away from the Battle of Edgehill on October 23, 1642. After the Parliamentary victory at Naseby in June 1645, Charles I ordered that the prince be sent to France. His council, reluctant to give the appearance of admitting defeat by having the heir leave Britain, finally complied a year later.

In 1648, when his father was held captive, Charles appealed in a letter to Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lord-General of Parliament’s New Model Army, offering himself as collateral for any terms that his father and Parliament might arrive at. This gesture was to no avail: his father was executed on January 30, 1649.

A King in Exile

Six days later, Scotland proclaimed Charles II, Prince of Wales, as King of Scotland. (As might be expected, this proclamation led to another civil war.) Charles arrived in Scotland in June 1650 and expeditiously accepted Scottish terms. These included the Solemn League and Covenant, intended to unite the national churches of England and Scotland under Presbyterianism.

Although proclaimed king, Charles II was not formally crowned until January 1651. England, meanwhile, had become a kingless republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. The Scots and Royalists continued to campaign against the Parliamentarians. After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, which ended the civil war, Charles purportedly hid in an oak tree (later called the Royal Oak) at Boscobel House. Even with a bounty of one thousand pounds on his head and Parliament’s troops fast at his heels, Charles escaped to France with the help of Royalists rich and poor alike.

The exiled king spent the next ten years in Europe. His mother and brother James were in France, and he stayed there for a time. However, when France needed England’s support in a war against Spain, Charles’s court in exile went on to Germany and supported the Spanish cause against France in Flanders.

The Restoration of the Monarchy

Upon Cromwell’s death in 1658, Charles seized his chance. Deprived of Cromwell’s personal leadership, Republican England stood on the brink of another civil war. One of Cromwell’s own generals, George Monck, saw in Charles the only hope of averting another such calamity. From the Netherlands, Charles made the Declaration of Breda, in which he as king promised to pay the army, to grant amnesty to those who committed offenses during the wars (with the exception of his father’s executioners), to settle land disputes, and to ensure “that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion.”

Parliament, newly elected, voted in favor of restoring the monarchy on May 8. Twenty-one days later, Charles paraded triumphantly into London. On April 23, 1661, he was formally crowned King of England.

The Reign of Charles II

Both his father’s reign and Cromwell’s had been sober. Charles II, known as the “Merry Monarch,” brought renewed, if bawdy, exuberance to English society. The king founded the Royal Society in 1662 to undertake scientific inquiry. He also commissioned the opening of theaters in which bawdy plays were staged. (The king’s most famous mistress was the actress Nell Gwynn.)

Despite this cultural flowering, the period of the Restoration was by no means free of problems. Although allied with the Dutch against France in the War of Devolution (1667–1668), Charles fought three wars against them (1652–1654, 1665–1667, and 1672–1674), the second of which resulted in the destruction of much of the English navy. Parliament forced him to cut short the third war when, to punish the king for his suspension of anti-Catholic laws, it failed to provide the necessary funding.

False report of a Catholic plot to assassinate the king brought anti-Catholic sentiment to a head in 1678, resulting in a number of needless executions. Another anti-Catholic movement—this to exclude a Catholic heir from the throne—prompted Charles to dissolve Parliament in 1679. Some Protestants allegedly plotted to assassinate the king and the heir, his Catholic brother James. Some historians suggest that the Rye House Plot, which did not materialize, was a fabrication, but in any case several members of Parliament were executed for their alleged involvement.

The king died of a fever on February 6, 1685, but not before a deathbed conversion to Catholicism. His wife, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, had provided no living offspring. None of his illegitimate children succeeded their father to the throne. The fear of the Exclusionists came to pass when Charles II’s Catholic brother took the crown as King James II of England (1633–1701).

Major Battles

Marston Moor, July 2, 1644

At Marston Moor, Parliamentarian forces and their Scottish allies defeated a Royalist army come to relieve the siege of York. The battle cost the Royalist the north of England and increased the military reputation of Parliamentarian leader Oliver Cromwell.

York Besieged

Two years before the Battle of Marston Moor, in 1642, King Charles I had declared war on his opponents in the English Parliament. Although engagements the following year seemed to promise a Royalist victory, Scottish entry into the war on the side of Parliament tipped the balance of power. The Solemn League and Covenant, a pact between Parliament and the Scots, was signed in September 1643, and by January 1644 the Army of the Covenant was on the march in England.

In April of that year, Lord Ferdinando Fairfax, commander of the Parliamentarian army, set siege to York, a Royalist stronghold in the northeast of England. He was joined by the Earl of Leven and, in June, by the Earl of Manchester. Defending the city was William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, who had been attempting to prevent the advance of the Scottish Covenanter Army in the east.

Rupert Brings Relief

On June 11, Prince Rupert, the king’s nephew and experienced field commander, seized Liverpool. Here he received a message from the king that seemed to order him to relieve York, and then go on to defeat the besieging armies. By the end of the month, his army stood one day’s march from York.

The Parliamentarians and Covenanters pulled their forces away from York to prevent Rupert’s advance. The Parliamentarians anticipated Rupert to approach from Knaresborough, directly west of York, because the northern route required crossing two rivers, the Ouse and the Swale. In fact, Rupert did exactly that, crossing the rivers and covering twenty-two miles in a single day to arrive at the forest of Galtres, about three miles northwest of York. The siege was broken, but Rupert’s success would be short-lived.

The Battle on the Moor

Rupert led his men across the Ouse again on the morning of July 2, while the Parliamentarians and their Scottish allies marched from Long Marston to Marston Moor, with the Scots as vanguard. Newcastle joined Rupert, but some of his men had chosen instead to raid the supplies left behind by the besiegers while others refused to come unless given their overdue pay.

Rupert arrayed the Royalist army on Marston Moor north of a ditch, while their opponents took up positions south of it. Although the Parliamentarians and Scots had the advantage of being slightly uphill, the ditch would, Rupert hoped, prevent the enemy horse from charging. To the west, where the ditch was shallower, he stationed musketeers.

Exchange of artillery fire began at about two o’clock in the afternoon, but it was four by the time the armies had fully assembled. They were very close, no more than four hundred yards apart. As the hour was so late, Rupert decided to rest his outnumbered men: the engagement would take place in the morning. Newcastle, on the other hand, wanted to wait longer for reinforcements, due in a couple of days.

The Parliamentarians had entirely different plans. As a thunderstorm broke at about seven o’clock, Parliament’s forces charged across the ditch. Cromwell’s horse got across first, thanks to the aid of the Scottish dragoons and the disorder of Rupert’s men caught unawares. Rupert succeeded in collecting them into some order, but Cromwell put them to flight. Rather than pursue the fleeing enemy as cavalry customarily would, Cromwell’s men stayed on the battlefield to engage again. Cromwell himself received a minor neck wound and was out of the action just long enough to have the wound dressed. Another officer led the next charge.

At the other end of the field, where the ditch was deeper and lined with a hedge and the moor beyond it rougher, Fairfax’s troops met greater difficulty and took greater losses. Royalist horse on the left broke through the Parliamentarian horse to the baggage train and a gathering of spectators, creating panic among bystanders and the nearby Scottish reserve forces.

Newcastle’s horse had broken through Parliament’s center of infantry. As dark fell, men from both sides—including Fairfax, Manchester, and Rupert—fled or withdrew from the battlefield. However, two regiments of Scots kept to the field and with their pikemen withstood Royalist charges. Fairfax, who removed from his hat the white cloth or paper that identified him as a Parliamentarian, passed unnoticed through the Royalists to rejoin Cromwell.

The Parliamentarian horse then smashed the Royalist infantry. Newcastle’s men made a final, exhausted stand against Parliament’s horse at White Syke Close. Offered quarter, they turned it down and held the earthen enclosure for the next hour until only thirty or so men remained alive to be captured.

In under two hours, the battle was over, a moonlit victory for Parliament. Rupert and other Royalist survivors returned to York. Rupert and Newcastle’s dead were counted at 4,150 with more than 1,500 taken prisoner, while Cromwell and Fairfax lost merely three hundred. The victors also claimed thousands of muskets and other arms.

Having met his first defeat of the war, Rupert departed York the next morning with no more than six thousand men. With York’s surrender to its besiegers on July 16, King Charles I lost the north of England to Parliament.

Naseby, July 14, 1645

Considered by some to be the greatest single mistake by Royalist forces, the Battle of Naseby was fought in the English midlands. Although Charles I continued to fight Parliament until 1648, Naseby was the loss from which the Royalists could not recover.

The Road to Naseby

The Royalist forces of King Charles I had lost the north, formerly a Royalist stronghold, at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. In May 1645, while Charles was marching northward to retake the region, Parliament’s New Model Army targeted Oxford for a siege.

Charles and his veteran commander Prince Rupert diverted to the city of Leicester, about sixty miles due north of Oxford, hoping to draw the New Model Army from the Royalist capital. It took the Royalists only about five hours on the afternoon of May 30 to break into Leicester by means of artillery and ladders. The city was then ravaged.

Although Rupert and Charles did not immediately realize it, the brutality of the sack of Leicester prompted the desired withdrawal of the Oxford siege. Against the advice of Rupert, who did not want to abandon the northern campaign, Charles ordered a southward march, intending to relieve Oxford. Along the way, the Royalist army seized herds of livestock with which to feed the starving city.

On June 12, Charles learned that the New Model Army, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, was indeed coming northward, and was already quite near. Although accounts of the number of combatants vary, the Royalist army was at a numerical disadvantage. Estimates for the Royalists range from 7,500 to in excess of 10,000. The New Model Army, now joined by Oliver Cromwell and his seven hundred horse, was more than thirteen thousand and perhaps as many as fifteen thousand.

At Naseby

The forces met at Broad Moor near the village of Naseby on June 14. Both armies positioned themselves on high ground at either side of the moor. Cavalry faced each other on the wings, while infantries faced off in the center. The King’s Reserve was positioned at the rear, atop Dust Hill.

Rupert led the first charge at ten o’clock in the morning. The Royalists literally had an uphill battle against the Parliamentarian position. New Model dragoons (mounted foot soldiers with firearms) took a heavy toll on the charging horse, but the charge still resulted in a rout of some of the New Model Army’s new recruits. Rupert’s cavalry eventually reached the Parliamentarian baggage train two miles behind the battle line, yet this “success” was unfortunate because Rupert could not return his forces in time to secure a Royalist victory.

The Royalist infantry also caused a rout, due again in part to new recruits among the Parliamentarian ranks, but the Royalists were outnumbered and without cavalry support. On the right, Cromwell had the upper hand and routed the Royalist left wing.

Now both Royalist flanks lay open to attack. Dragoons formerly hidden in the hedgerows charged the right flank and Cromwell’s horse attacked the left. As the Royalist infantry fled, King Charles himself tried to lead a charge of his lifeguard (a small detachment of cavalry), only to have the Earl of Carnwrath seize his bridle and convince him to go the other way. This inspired panic among the lifeguard.

Rupert’s infantry resisted the Parliamentarian forces, but most Royalists fled the field. The New Model Army pursued them for some twelve miles, to within two miles of Leicester. Charles and Rupert survived the rout but many others, including servants and female camp followers in the Royalist baggage train, did not.

Costly Loss

As Naseby further lifted the reputation of Cromwell’s leadership, it sunk that of the king. Besides losing the battle, Charles lost his artillery, eight thousand guns, forty barrels of gunpowder, four hundred horses, and much else. Perhaps most important were the cabinet letters, papers that indicated that the king planned to bring Irish Catholic soldiers onto English soil. Once published, these did considerable damage to the Royalist cause.

Although further battles were fought (although no others under the king’s own command), Naseby proved to be the festering wound from which the Royalists could not recover. Charles I surrendered to the Scottish Army in 1648; less than a year later, he was executed for treason.

Drogheda, 1649

The siege of Drogheda was Cromwell’s first battle in his conquest of Ireland. Stories of English atrocities committed there cemented Cromwell’s reputation for brutality among the Irish.

The Uprising and First Siege

Before the English Civil War proper began, the Irish Catholics rebelled against the English and Scottish Protestant settlers who had been bought into Ireland during the previous century. The uprising began in Ulster on October 22, 1641; in November, Irish forces besieged Drogheda, a well-fortified medieval city straddling the River Boyne. A Royalist force dispatched to relieve the city met defeat at the Battle of Julianstown on November 29, but the Irish withdrew their siege the following March. Drogheda remained Royalist. Although the leaders did not plan to kill innocents during the uprising, some Irish inflicted revenge for past offenses upon the fleeing Protestants.

The Irish commoners were not alone in resenting the intrusion into Ireland, for Anglo-Irish landowners liked it no better. These two populations formed a new government, the Confederacy, which negotiated terms with King Charles I of England and Scotland. This alarmed Parliament, which feared an imposition of Catholicism throughout the British Isles. While the English and Scottish were embroiled in the English Civil War, the Irish continued to fight Protestant forces in Ireland, but neither side achieved the upper hand.

The Second Siege

King Charles I was executed in January 1649. Parliament then appointed Oliver Cromwell Lord Lieutenant of Ireland so that he could confront the problem of essentially Royalist Ireland: it was a mission intended to pacify the country, install new English Protestant landowners, and exact revenge for the uprising. On August 2, 1649, after the Battle of Rathmines, a Protestant force took Dublin. Thirteen days later, Cromwell himself landed in Ireland with more than ten thousand soldiers of the New Model Army.

To win support from the local population, Cromwell paid the Irish for supplies and forbade his troops from looting. From Dublin he marched his army north to Drogheda, which had surrendered to the Confederacy the previous month. Stationed south of the city, Cromwell waited for his artillery to arrive by sea.

Sir Arthur Aston, a Catholic Royalist with a wooden leg, commanded the occupying Confederate force, a body of some three thousand men. He refused Cromwell’s demand to surrender and fired his guns upon the enemy, but the city was short of gunpowder, and this bombardment ceased on September 8.

The Confederacy decided to let Cromwell besiege the city, certain that disease and long supply and communication lines would wear down the New Model Army. Aston also had promise of support from, among others, the late king’s own Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, Marquis of Ormande. However, these troops and other resources—including everything from ammunition to cattle to money—never arrived. A few of Ormonde’s troops even defected as the New Model Army marched north.

Two other factors doomed the defenders’ strategy: the support Cromwell had raised in Dublin (which shortened his supply line), and the size of Cromwell’s guns. A week after Cromwell’s arrival, on September 9, his vessels delivered eleven siege guns, a pair each of 8-inch cannon and 7-inch cannon, as well as three culverins (lighter field pieces). By the next day, the artillery pieces were pummeling the southeastern corner of the town.

The walls, twenty feet tall and up to two yards wide, were soon breached. On late afternoon of September 11, Cromwell sent seven hundred or eight hundred infantry into the city. The defenders, who had prepared themselves for the assault, repulsed the first attempt. After further bombardment, Cromwell personally led the second assault, which put the defenders to flight.

The siege was effectively over but for the bloodshed. Cromwell ordered his men to offer no quarter to anyone bearing arms. Aston and some of his men remained in the southern half of town, on the Mill Mount, a highly defensible prehistoric hill. Here they were slaughtered. Most of the rest of Aston’s men had fled across the Boyne to the larger northern half of town. After their retreat, they failed to lift the drawbridge, so that all of Drogheda now lay within Cromwell’s reach.

The Atrocities of Drogheda

Cromwell lost perhaps 150 men. Estimates of the dead among the defenders and civilians at Drogheda were at least three thousand. Many defenders burned to death in St. Peter’s Church or were slain trying to escape. Aston himself was beaten to death with his wooden leg. Clergymen were put to the sword. Although the veracity of the accounts of these and other atrocities has not gone unquestioned, such reports—which Cromwell hoped would serve as a warning for other Irish rebels—became powerful propaganda for nationalists.

Cromwell went on to conquer Ireland, though resistance persisted beyond the surrender of Galway in May 1652.

Dunbar, September 3, 1650

The Battle of Dunbar was a devastating loss for the Scottish army, led by General David Leslie, at the hands of the English Lord General Oliver Cromwell. The English victory here paved the way to the fall of Edinburgh.

The English Arrive

In July 1650, after the resignation of Sir Thomas Fairfax, Parliament named Oliver Cromwell Lord General of the New Model Army. Cromwell had begun the reconquest of Ireland at Drogheda two years before; now, with the reconquest incomplete, he had to take on Scotland. Previously the Scots had been allied with Cromwell and Parliament against King Charles I, but following the king’s execution in 1649, they declared his son to be King Charles II.

The same month of his promotion, Cromwell led an army of sixteen thousand northward toward Edinburgh. As the New Model Army advanced, the Scottish General David Leslie had all crops destroyed and livestock removed from the path of the invaders between the River Tweed and Edinburgh. This was done to lengthen the English supply line. Leslie also created a defensive line between Edinburgh and Leith.

While these moves made Cromwell’s life harder, other actions taken by the Scots were counterproductive. Charles’s popularity among the troops disturbed the staunchly Presbyterian Scottish Covenanters, so Charles crossed the Firth of Forth to Dunfermline, away from the looming action. The Covenanters also expelled non-Presbyterian Cavaliers from their ranks, sapping the Scottish army of experienced manpower and doing nothing to improve morale.

By late July, the English took Dunbar, Musselburgh, and Haddington. Even so, the rigors of maintaining a sustained conflict in a hostile land were taking their toll on the New Model Army. Cromwell endeavored to convince the Covenanters that their agreement with Charles was in error, but this stab at persuasion was made in vain. Short of supplies, buffeted by the weather of a wet, stormy summer, and with a third of his men out of action because of disease, Cromwell retreated to Dunbar.

Leslie followed with 23,000 men. The Scots stationed themselves on Doon Hill in the Lammermuir Hills on September 1. Between Doon Hill and the sea, beyond the glen through which ran Brox Burn (Brock’s Burn, modern Spott Burn), Cromwell and the New Model Army camped on swampy ground. The only escape route for the English would be by sea, and when Cromwell placed the most ill of his men aboard ship, Leslie thought this was the beginning of a general retreat.

The Battle of Dunbar

On September 2, the Scots descended from the hill. With the sea on their right, they positioned themselves south of Brox Burn, ready for battle on September 3. The experienced English recognized deficiencies in the wings of Leslie’s army and planned an attack.

Under cover of the rainy night, Cromwell moved his army in for an assault. He intended to bring the bulk of his forces across the burn downstream from the Scottish forces. Lieutenant General John Lambart (or Lambert) led a brigade to secure the route. They encountered, and defeated, Scottish soldiers before dawn, losing no more than thirty of their own men.

Scottish lancers charged the incoming English, but the English persisted in their attack. After sunrise, the cavalry of the Scots’ right wing broke and the infantry beyond it likewise fell. Scottish infantrymen and artillerymen fled. The Scottish left wing of cavalry, positioned between the ravine of the burn and Doon Hill, had been of no use and was also overcome by the English. After an hour of fighting, the battle ended.

The Cost of Dunbar

Cromwell lost only the twenty or thirty who had perished before the main battle. Of the Scots, three thousand were slain and more than three times that number were taken prisoner, an indication of the poor quality of these troops. Of the prisoners, Cromwell let the wounded men go free. Half of the rest were sent on a forced ten-day march to Durham Cathedral. About three thousand survived that far, and by December, only 1,400 remained. The English shipped survivors of this lot to the American colonies, where they served as indentured laborers.

Dunbar proved a costly loss for the Scots. Leslie’s army could not defend Edinburgh against the next English assault a few days later. The decisive battle of the conflict, leading to English victory in Scotland, occurred at Worcester in September 1651.

Worcester, September 3, 1651

The Battle of Worcester was the final defeat for the Royalist forces in England and the end of the English Civil War.

Assembling at Worcester

In January 1651, the Scots formally crowned King Charles II. At this time the south of Scotland had been lost to Oliver Cromwell, who had taken Edinburgh after the Battle of Dunbar the previous year. In July 1651, the outnumbered Scots lost the Battle of Inverkeithing to the English New Model Army under the command of Lieutenant General John Lambart. This severed Charles and his Scottish forces at Stirling from being reinforced and resupplied from the north.

With nowhere else to go, Charles II marched into England, hoping to raise an insurrection against Parliament. Charles’s army—ill supplied, undermanned, and harassed by Lambart’s troops—was in poor position to inspire a rebellion, let alone achieve a victory. Parliament had stoked anti-Scottish sentiment throughout England. Even so, the people of Worcester (on the Welsh border) welcomed Charles on August 22. He wanted to press on to London, but his weary army of twelve thousand refused, and so Worcester became the place of Charles’s last stand on British soil.

Worcester sat on both banks of the Severn, a southward-flowing river. Downstream of Worcester, an eastward-flowing tributary (the Teme) joined the Severn. To prepare for the pending English assault, bridges across both rivers were dismantled, and the city’s fortifications improved. Morale remained low, as might be expected, given that the approaching enemy numbered more than thirty thousand.

Cromwell arrived on August 28. The New Model Army, which had captured two bridges across the Severn, approached Worcester from the south on both the east and west sides of the river. Cromwell positioned artillery at Red Hill and Perry Wood, east of the city, and began firing on August 29.

The Battle of Worcester

On September 3, before six in the morning, exactly one year after Cromwell’s victory at Dunbar, Parliamentarian forces attempted crossings at two points on the Teme: at Powick Bridge (where the first real action of the English Civil War had been fought on September 23, 1642) and over a pontoon bridge near the confluence with the Severn. The Scottish defenders held their ground at both locations.

As he did when his army met resistance at Drogheda, Cromwell personally took the lead. From his station on the east bank of the Severn, he crossed his brigades over to the west bank of the Severn, north of the Teme, and pushed back the defending Highlanders. The Scottish troops, including those at Powick Bridge, now retreated into Worcester.

Other Royalist forces, however, exploited the disadvantage in which the Parliamentarian army to the east now found itself, deprived of Cromwell. Charles and William Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton, engaged the New Model Army east of Worcester. The Royalist artillery, stationed at the earthwork Fort Royal near the southeastern corner of the city, came into play; the Parliamentarian attackers fell back. Victory seemed within reach of Charles, until Cromwell returned and beat him and the now-panicked defenders back into the city.

The capture of Fort Royal added to Parliament’s artillery, as the city’s own guns were turned against it. Once darkness fell, the New Model Army broke into Worcester. Charles and his cavalry, if no one else, attempted to defend the city, but finally the king and his men had to abandon the fight. Charles escaped, but most of his officers were not so lucky. The New Model Army, which lost no more than two hundred of their own, killed perhaps three thousand of Charles’s Scottish fighting men and captured thousands more.

While the Scottish cavalry that escaped headed north to Scotland, Charles fled the British Isles to France. Although Cromwell won the battle and the war and was appointed Lord Protector of England, Charles prevailed in the end. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, the monarchy was restored, and Charles II became king of England.

Key Elements of Warcraft

New Model Army

In 1645, the English Parliament remodeled its military forces to more effectively engage those of King Charles I, with whom it was at war. The resulting New Model Army went on to defeat the Royalists and support the government of Oliver Cromwell.

The Need for New Modeling

At the beginning of the English Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament, local associations provided recruits for the Parliamentarian armies, which consequently were difficult to use any great distance from their home counties. Discord within Parliament—with Puritan members suspecting Presbyterians of entertaining Royalist sympathies and rivalries arising between the English and the Scots—considerably complicated matters, since the members also served as army officers. Furthermore, some who wanted peace rather than a decisive military victory accused those in the pro-war party of profiting from the campaigns.

Self-Denying Ordinance

Parliament solved these difficulties with the Self-Denying Ordinance. By this legislation, passed only after considerable debate and revision from December 1644 until April 1645, members of Parliament resigned their military appointments.

Sir Thomas Fairfax, a supporter of the war party, was selected to be lord general of the “new-modeled” army. In turn, Fairfax selected new officers who were approved by Parliament, though not without debate. The House of Lords particularly objected to Independent (Puritan) officers and tried to impose less radical members, including Presbyterians and Scots. The appointments were finally settled in March 1645. By the terms of his commission, unlike any commander before him, Fairfax was not required to protect the person of the king.

Oliver Cromwell, a Member of Parliament exempted from the Self-Denying Ordinance, was promoted to lieutenant general of cavalry. Although the House of Lords disliked this appointment, Cromwell proved himself too valuable on the battlefield, especially with his victory at Naseby in June 1645. When Fairfax resigned in 1650, Cromwell became Lord General of the New Model Army.

Makeup of the Army

When founded, the New Model Army comprised two dozen regiments. Half of these were foot regiments of musketeers and pikemen. Musketeers were armed with matchlock muskets or the shorter caliver. A few had more expensive guns with newer, matchless ignition systems; fowling pieces, more accurate than their military counterparts, were sometimes pressed into service as arms for snipers. Musketeers also carried short swords and wore little or no armor.

Pikemen guarded the musketeers from cavalry charges, and subsequently were more heavily armored, in helmet, breastplate, backplate, thigh guards (tassets), and collar (gorget) over a heavy leather jacket. Each pikeman carried a fifteen-to-eighteen-foot pike made of ash wood, tipped with an iron head.

Of the remaining twelve regiments, eleven were horse. Heavily armored cuirassiers, fully armored much in the style of the earlier knights, were rarities. Lightly armored arquebusiers (or harquebusiers) were much more common. Each arquebusier wore a helmet, breastplate, backplate, and, on his left arm, a bridle gauntlet. An arquebusier also carried a sword or, less often, a poleaxe, but his principle weapon would have been a firearm. This might be a arquebus or a smaller gun called a carbine, or a pair of pistols. The New Model Army also included a single regiment of dragoons, or mounted infantry.

There were no designated artillery units. The ordnance used by the Army, especially for sieges, varied in caliber and terminology, which remained unstandardized until the next century. A single mule could transport small pieces, but larger pieces were brought into the field by teams of oxen or horses. The guns ranged from 1.25-inch caliber pieces up to massive cannons of 12-inch caliber. Mortars, pieces with wide bores but very short barrels, were fired high, so that their projectiles landed beyond the walls. Artillery fired balls of iron or lead, which were sometimes molded in the field, or stones. Match-lit grenades could also be used. Grape shot, small balls packed into a cloth bag that would fly apart upon being fired, was especially effective at close range against enemy personnel and horses.

About one-third of the troops were conscripted. Men aged eighteen to sixty-five were liable to be pressed into service, though owning a certain amount of property earned some men exemption. Desertions, particularly among the infantry, were common.

The Army as a Political Force

The Army had its own political aspirations. Among the Army were Levelers, radical Puritans who wanted to dissolve Parliament and write a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion (excluding Catholics) and broader voting rights. In December 1648, the Army and certain members of Parliament purged Parliament of all suspected Royalists. This created the Rump Parliament, which went on to execute King Charles I and make Oliver Cromwell the Lord Protector of England.

The New Model Army was disbanded in 1660, but one unit survived. That same year, Colonel George Monck’s Regiment of Foot turned against the Protectorate Parliament. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1661, under King Charles II, Monck’s group was transformed into the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. It remains in service today as the Coldstream Guards.

Impact of the English Civil War

The English Civil War brought an end to the reign of Charles I. What followed was a government ruled by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, supported by the New Model Army, which at times numbered in excess of fifty thousand men, in addition to militias. Ireland, defeated by Parliament like other Royalists, did not regain its independence until the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921). The Instrument of Government, England’s new constitution of 1653 (revised four years later as the Humble Petition and Advice) denied membership in Parliament to Catholics and some Anglicans, and other Protestant sects, such as the Quakers, were also persecuted. However, Jews, expelled from England in 1290, were readmitted in 1655.

Puritan morality was legislated. Swearing and blasphemy were punishable offenses, and, at least in theory, adultery became a capital crime. Newspapers were subject to censure and plays were prohibited. The crown jewels of England were broken down and, like Charles I’s personal art collection, sold off. Despite this, and despite the destruction of sacred artworks, the Puritans retained a deep appreciation of secular fine arts. Likewise, sacred music was prohibited, but secular music prospered.

Parliament had replaced the individual armies of the county associations with the New Model Army. The navy had sided with Parliament during the war and substantially increased in size. In 1655, an attempt to seize the Spanish colony of Hispaniola failed, a defeat Cromwell and his admirals blamed on English sinfulness, but England did take Jamaica, which in a hundred years became an important plantation colony. Passage of the Navigation Act (1651) mandated that all imports be shipped in either English vessels or vessels of the goods’ country of origin. This was a swipe against the English’s chief commercial rival, the Dutch, and it served to strengthen England’s growing commercial and colonial empire.

Although his son briefly succeeded him after his death in 1657, Cromwell founded no dynasty. The monarchy was restored, in the person of King Charles II, in 1661. All legislation passed since 1641 was expunged and the Anglican Church was strongly reestablished, to the detriment of other Protestant sects. Theaters reopened, with bawdy comedy being suddenly the rage. In the wake of Charles’s return to England from France and Holland came continental tastes in the fine and decorative arts. John Milton finished writing Paradise Lost (begun in 1642), and John Bunyon wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Under royal charter, in 1662 the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge published Robert Hooke’s Micrographia: or, Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses. Charles’s marriage to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza gave England the Moroccan port of Tangier and more importantly the Indian port of Bombay (modern Mumbai), which grew into one of the most important ports of the British Empire.

When Charles II died in 1685 and his Catholic brother became King James II of England, Parliament became fearful that the new king—who kept a sizeable standing army and promoted Catholics—was preparing to impose “popery” upon England. James II was deposed, and, in 1689, replaced by his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange. This Dutch aristocrat and his wife became King William III and Queen Mary II.

Parliament had considerable hand in the Glorious Revolution, as these events were called. The monarchy would never again be the institution Charles I had known. Jealous of the gains it had won through bloodshed during the Civil War, Parliament placed strict limits on the power of the king. This created the constitutional monarchy that has endured in Great Britain until the present day, and under this government England grew into an empire.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” <(accessed May 3, 2007).

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The English Civil War (1642–1651)

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