The English Civil War started in 1642 when Charles I raised his royal standard in Nottingham. The split between Charles and Parliament was such that neither side was willing to back down over the principles that they held and war was inevitable as a way in which all problems could be solved. The country split into those who supported the king and those who supported Parliament – the classic ingredients for a civil war.
As with most wars during the C17th, the English Civil War was not a long continuous war. Armies lacked mobility and the time taken to collect the most basic of equipment meant that there were long periods of time when no fighting was taking place despite England being at war at the time. The weather was also a major determining factor in whether armies could fight or not. Roads were no more than tracks and the winter could cut them up to make them beyond use. Therefore moving any armies around would be very difficult.
There were only three major battles in the English Civil War – Edge Hill (1642) Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645).
While it is difficult to give an exact breakdown of who supported who as there were regional variations, at a general level the nobility, landowners and Anglicans supported Charles I while those in the towns and cities supported Parliament. However, this is a generalisation and there were noblemen who supported Parliament and there were towns such as Newark that supported Charles.
The first major battle of the English Civil War was at Edge Hill. While both sides claimed success, there was no decisive result from this battle. The following year, 1643, saw a series of smaller battles that were equally as indecisive in the sense that neither side dealt a fatal blow to the other. In 1643, Oliver Cromwell came more and more to the fore with his desire for a New Model Army. This new force was to have a decisive impact on the course of the English Civil War.
In 1644, Charles lost control of the north of England as a result of a major defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor. The combined armies of Parliament and the Scots heavily defeated the Royalists.
In June 1645, Cromwell’s New Model Army inflicted a fatal blow to the king’s army at the Battle of Naseby. Charles did not recover from this defeat and his cause was lost.
In 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots rather than to Parliament. He hoped to take advantage of the fact that the Scottish and Parliamentary alliance was fragile and could collapse at any time. In fact, the Scots took advantage of Charles and sold him to Parliament for £400,000 in January 1647. The problem Parliament now had was what to do with Charles. The king actually helped in his own downfall. In November 1647, he escaped to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight and in 1648 the short-lived second civil war broke out. The supporters of the king were defeated at Preston. All that Charles had proved to Parliament was that he could not be trusted.
Charles was tried at Westminster Hall in January 1649, and found guilty that he had “traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people therein represented.”
Charles was executed on January 30th, 1649.
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