The Civil War


The Civil War (1642-1650) had many causes:

  • Religious debate about whether everyone should conform to the state Church or whether greater freedom of religious expression should be allowed
  • The ambiguous attitude of the Stuarts to Parliamentary democracy. By nature and background, they were autocratic, and were quite prepared to rule without Parliament
  • A gradual shift of economic power away from the aristocracy towards the middle classes meant that the latter wanted more say in the finances of the country.

There seems to have been a certain inevitability about the Civil War. There had been previous rebellions against English monarchs but usually by disaffected aristocrats. Here, there was a substantial majority in Parliament willing to take up arms against Charles I, not at first to overthrow him, but at least to force him to take Parliament seriously.

Defeat for the monarchy

Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of NasebyHowever, by the time the Civil War was over, Charles had been executed, and his son, Charles II, was in exile. The Parliamentary Army general who emerged holding the reins of power was Oliver Cromwell, from the independent middle classes of ‘Middle England'. Some, such as the poets John Milton and Andrew Marvell admired him; others hated him, such as Sir John Evelyn, whose diaries give us a good insight into the period.

The monarchy restored

Cromwell was a brilliant soldier but not such a good legislator. He had made no provision for the future running of the country when he died in 1658. It became obvious the only model the country had was the old one of a sovereign, a state Church, and a restricted Parliament. At the Restoration in 1660, this was put back into place. Fortunately, new ideas and the forces of democracy were not snuffed out but emerged a while later when the last old-style Stuart, James II, was gently ousted by the Dutchman William III and his English wife Mary II in 1688. By then, a new culture was firmly in place.

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