In the final in the English Civil War series of articles, Myra King looks at how the English Civil War progressed, finally leading to King Charles I being put on trial by Oliver Cromwell’s government.
In this series on the English Civil War, we have previously considered the Divine Right of Kings, and Henry VIII and bloody religious change, how the Gunpowder Plot may have been a Protestant-led conspiracy, and Scotland and the lead up to the English Civil War.
“I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me... Warts and everything,”
These were the words of Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell. This inspired the saying, “Warts and All,” meaning taking the bad with the good. Which, when looking at Cromwell, that is exactly what you have to do. Despite having no military and political training he was quickly promoted to one of the principal commanders of the Parliamentary army. He had the support of most of those in the towns and cities, while nobility and landowners backed King Charles I.
Each side gathered more supporters and more hatred until eventually tensions rose too high and complaints were too grievous.
In August 1642, in the town of Nottingham, war was declared against the King who had, one too many times, raised his royal standard and declared his intent to rule England however he saw fit.
There were only three major battles in the English Civil War: Edge Hill (1642), Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645).
The battle of Edge Hill has the interesting ability to claim no victor. Both sides cried that they were winners but neither really won. The following year saw many more small engagements; the Cavaliers won more often than not. But these battles were not big enough to dent the Parliamentarian army nor make any hedge way to winning the war.
Although it did give Dr William Harvey the ability to camp on the battlefields and study the anatomy of the dead. It is thanks to the fallen soldiers and the brave doctor that we know that blood circulates through the body in a continuous loop. It was at the second major battle, Marston Moor, that the tide began to turn against the King. The Cavalier army had set up camp on a field just west of York. With only an hour left of sunlight, Prince Rupert and the rest of the dukes, settled down to dinner and expected to hunker down for the night once it was done. To them, it seemed preposterous that the Parliamentarians would attack them with the dark night so imminent. This decision proved Royalist stupidity or it showed that Parliamentarians did not practice gentlemanly war.
Either way, before the aristocracy was done with their leg of lamb, the Parliamentarians attacked. The unprepared Cavaliers were slaughtered where they stood. This was the first true victory for the Parliamentarian Roundheads.
Charles had officially lost the north of England.
But the fatal blow came in June 1645 when Cromwell desecrated any hope of victory for the Royalists. They were beaten and broken at the battle of Naseby.
They did not recover and the entire cause was lost.
Charles, ever the sneak, decided to surrender himself to the Scottish rather than Parliament. He was banking on the shaky alliance between Cromwell and the Scots collapsing under this new deceit. He did not bank on the idea that the Scottish were just as sneaky. They simply sold Charles to Parliament for £400,000 in January 1647.
Although, that brought its own problems. What on earth was parliament supposed to do with a defeated king?
Luckily for them, King Charles paved the road to doom all on his own.
The song “Rule Britannia” was performed for the first time on August 1, 1740, one hundred years after Charles’s defeat. But the chorus of this patriotic song might as well have been written as the wretched king walked the land.
Britannia rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!”
The English had had enough.
They were done with their tyrant kings who seemed to serve only themselves. The first Civil War had proved how quickly and effectively the people would take up arms against the king.
They would no longer be slaves!
But in November 1647, Charles escaped from Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. He ran back to the Scots and begged them for an army. This led to the second Civil War. Unfortunately for Charlie, he was easily defeated.
One has to wonder why this was. Were the Scots purposely leading him to his downfall or were they simply just not all that interested in winning, since this would mean continual war with the English? Or was it a simple case of the angry English having so much firepower that the mighty Scots were no match?
Whatever it was, the result was that Charles, now twice defeated, had proved that he could not be trusted. He was tried at Westminster Hall in January 1649. He was found guilty of the crime of “traitorously and maliciously” levying war against Parliament and the people.
THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
He was executed on January 30, 1649. A king finally cut down for his crimes against England.
It was, of course, the most controversial trial of the century. There were no laws for the trial of a monarch. The English had to bring in a Dutch lawyer who based his work on ancient Roman law. This law stated that a military body (i.e. Parliament) could legally overthrow a tyrant (now you know why so many Roman emperors met their end at the hands of the Praetorian Guard!).
During the trial, Charles refused to recognize the legality of the court. He also refused to take off his hat as a sign of respect to the judges. We assume that he was aiming for an air of royal pride. In reality, all it did was confirm to the judges that Charles was arrogant and dangerous. He was executed on a cold Tuesday afternoon. He had been allowed a last walk through St. James’ Park with his dog. His last meal was a paltry slice of bread and glass of wine. His executioner refused the job at the last moment. And so did his replacement. And his replacement. And also his replacement. And then his replacement. Eventually someone was found and offered £100 for the job. A hefty salary, almost one hundred times the original payment. At 2pm, Charles was led to the block. He wore two shirts as he didn’t want the cold to make him shiver and have that misconstrued as fear.
Once he was dead, spectators stole his blood in superstitious belief of its healing qualities.
On February 6, 1649, the monarchy of England - something that had existed since just after the Roman period - was abolished.
The Civil War was not so much a war as it was a revolution. The beaten masses rose up as one against their tyrannical leader. Some would say that Charles was simply replaced by another tyrant as Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. Although the Puritan Cromwell abolished Christmas, sport and theatre, he was an extremely popular leader within his own time. He ruled England well and took it from strength to strength. Unfortunately he never had the foresight to lay down a constitution so that his ideas of government, which served the country well, were preserved. These ideas went to the grave with him. Without their Lord Protector, England was simply lost.
Although they had fought a war in order to abolish the monarchy, within years of Cromwell’s death, England invited the royal family back.
Charles’s eldest son, Charles II, became king under one condition: Parliament had the most say in every decision.
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