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The Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642 - 1660)
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The Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642 - 1660)THE CIVIL WAR that began in England spread to engulf Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Men and women at all levels of society - even within the same family -took different sides on issues of principle. The struggle between king and Parliament was heightened by religious differences between Puritans and Anglicans, and by calls for social equality or 'levelling' from small groups of radicals.

The war began in 1642 when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham - only for it to be blown down the same night 'by a very strong and unruly wind'. This was a bad omen. The first major battle - at Edgehill, Warwickshire (on 23 October 1642) - was indecisive. Prominent among Parliament's ranks was Oliver Cromwell, a 43-year-old gentleman-farmer from the Fens who reformed his side's cavalry to a point where it matched the dash of the king's cavaliers, commanded by his nephew, Prince Rupert.

In a war of frequent, mainly small, battles there were seldom more than 15,000 men on either side. Of some 645 actions recorded, 198 were sieges, averaging a month or more. Some castles and churches suffered severe damage and there was human cost, too. Between 1642 and 1660, over 84,000 people were killed. Disease took perhaps 150,000 more lives. Ireland lost as much as 40 per cent of its population.

Cromwell wrote to the Speaker of Parliament after the Battle of Dunbar, 1650: 'The enemy made a gallant resistance, and there was a very hot dispute at sword's point between our horse and theirs'. He goes on to describe how his own regiment 'at the push of pike, did repel the stoutest regiment the enemy had, merely with the courage the Lord was pleased to give. The battle ended with a rout 'our men having the chase and execution of them near eight miles.'

King Charles's hopes of clear victory were dashed by defeat at Naseby in 1645. He then tried diplomatic manoeuvres, but in the end was brought to trial and execution. Hopes of a Royalist counterstroke from Ireland were crushed by Cromwell, and the Royalists' defeat at Worcester in 1651 ended the war as Charles II escaped to exile abroad.

Kingless England was declared a Commonwealth. In 1653, however, Cromwell tired of a bickering Parliament and ironically ruled alone as Lord Protector, refusing the title of king in 1657. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard, mockingly nicknamed 'Tumbledown Dick', inherited his father's position but quickly resigned. To general relief, the army and Parliament invited Charles II to return from exile.

'For my part, I began to think we should all, like Abraham, live in tents all the days of our lives
Lady Anne Fanshawe (1625-80), on life during the Civil War


1642 Civil War begins. Battle of Edgehill

1644 Battle of Marston Moor

1645 Parliament's New Model Army wins Battle of Naseby

1646 Charles I surrenders to Scots

1647 Scots hand Charles to the Army, but he escapes

1648 Charles allies himself with Scots; second stage of war begins

1649 Trial and execution of Charles I

1651 Charles II is defeated at Worcester

1653 Cromwell becomes Lord Protector

1658 Death of Cromwell

1660 Monarchy is restored

Marston Moor, the bloodiest Civil War battle, was fought near York in the summer of 1644. 'God made them as stubble to our swords,' declared Cromwell, whose cavalry won the day.

The Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642 - 1660)

Today this statue of Oliver Cromwell stands outside the Houses of Parliament, whose rights and privileges he fought to defend but whose services he later dispensed with.

The Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642 - 1660)

Ernest Croft's Victorian painting shows Charles I on the scaffold. On a bitterly cold winter's morning, the king wore two shirts to avoid shivering and so appear fearful of impending death.

The Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642 - 1660)

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