The English Civil War
The First Civil War
Perhaps the most fascinating legacy of this civil war is that even after more than three centuries opinion remains split over which side represented the heart of the English people. The longstanding stories that the war saw families divided is a somewhat surprising notion that is genuinely supported by much evidence, primarily at local level. In terms of logistics, parliament’s strengths were many. It had access to the key seaports that had been so critical in the First Barons’ War of the 13th century, and London was also firmly in parliament’s grip. The voice of the commoner, however, often remained nostalgically in Charles’s favour, and when the conflict began at Edgehill in October 1642, it was the valour of these courageous but undisciplined forces that successfully drove the Parliamentary horse from the field but failed to see the job through. As the first battle of the war ended without a decisive outcome, the general commanding the Parliamentary forces returned to London as Charles set up his new HQ at Christ Church in Oxford.
The King’s nephew, Prince Rupert, fresh from excelling himself at Edgehill, had overseen Royalist control of the north, including York, and by the middle of 1643 the Royalist position was strong. Isolated military conflict throughout the year kept tensions simmering, but little occurred on either side to change the direction of the war until the fiercely republican John Pym convinced the Edinburgh assembly to assist the Roundhead cause with 18,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry in recognition of parliament’s vow to abolish bishops from government and impose religious reforms in England. These reinforcements met up with their Roundhead counterparts near York in the summer of 1644, where a further band of East Anglian cavalry led by the Cambridgeshire MP, Oliver Cromwell, joined them. Conflict at Marston Moor, a short distance from York, saw the butchering of 3,000 Royalists and a key momentum shift in the Roundheads’ favour.
If the previous year had been pivotal to the direction of the war, the remainder of 1644 and early 1645 were no less significant. Royalist recovery at Newbury and in Cornwall saw Cromwell come close to blows with the aristocratic Parliamentarian generals, the earls of Manchester and Essex, culminating in now famous words, “I hope to live to see never a nobleman in England.” Cromwell’s wishes were partially fulfilled, along with his demands for a New Model Army consisting of paid troops. A winter’s training paid off when the decisive action came at Naseby, a resounding Royalist defeat. After the fall of Bristol and finding himself besieged at Oxford, Charles escaped and remained successfully undercover before being recognised in disguise among the Scottish camp near Newark. After a year negotiating the King’s handover to parliament, the Scots sent Charles to London.