Civil War

Since the end of the Wars of the Roses, England had enjoyed about 200 years of relative peace. The Civil War was caused by a number of constitutional, religious and economic crises.

The monarch’s rift with Parliament dated back to when James I levied taxes by Royal Prerogative. Parliament accused him of misusing his powers. In 1625, when his son, Charles I, came to the throne, the situation deteriorated further. He married a Catholic, and kept himself aloof from the people. The problems were compounded with England's involvement in costly wars with France and Spain. Eventually, Charles I decided to dissolve Parliament and rule without it.

When subsequently recalled Parliament, some members did not trust the King to honour his promises of constitutional reform. He tried to arrest five of its members but they escaped. The gates of London were closed to the King, and the Civil war became inevitable.

There were three stages to the English Civil War which consisted of a series of battles fought between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) beginning in 1642 and finally ending in 1651.

Looking towards the Royalist's position, Edgehill battlefield, Warwickshire

The first major engagement of the Civil War took place on October 23rd 1642 in a field at Edgehill near Banbury. Charles I's army were on their way to London when they reached the village intending to rest. The Parliamentarian army had camped about 11 kilometres away at Kineton. Not until one of their men went into a village and came across a Royalist quartermaster, did they realise how close the two armies were. Both consisted of about 14,000 men, but they were widely scattered and the morning of the 23rd was spent in regrouping. By the time they were deployed, the Royalists were in a good position on a ridge overlooking the surrounding plain.

They began by bombarding each other with canon. Then the Royalists took the initiative as Prince Rupert charged the enemies flank. The men under attack fled, with the Prince's cavalry in pursuit. The King's infantry met stubborn resistance when they attacked the Parliamentarian centre. They were in danger of losing the battle when the Prince returned with his cavalry and retrieved the situation. As night fell, further fighting became impossible. The survivors were exhausted and many wandered off the field. Others camped where they were amongst the 3000 dead and wounded.

The River Terne, Worcestester

The Battle of Worcester was fought on September 3rd, 1651 to the south and east of the modern town centre. Earlier, in January 1649, Charles II was proclaimed King of Scotland - five days after his father, Charles I, had been executed in London. Expecting further opposition from the Royalists in Scotland, Cromwell crossed the border with about 5,000 horse and 10,000 foot. Though they suffered heavy losses at Dunbar, the opposing army was virtually wiped out.

By August the Scots had reinforced and crossed into England with Cromwell’s troops occupied in Edinburgh and Perth. But Cromwell was not going to be left behind and moved his men south determined to end the Royalist cause once and for all. As he progressed into England, Charles II found little support. He entered Worcester with about 16,000 tired troops, intending to rest and gather recruits from Wales before continuing on to London. Cromwell however, was close behind with about 28,000 men which he deployed to the south and east of the city.

Plan of the Battle of Worcester.

As his cannon bombarded began, Cromwell sent a detachment of troops in the south to cross the River Teme using a bridge built of boats. The Royalists put up strong resistance and Cromwell was forced to divert more foot and cavalry into the area. 

Realising Cromwell's position in the east had weakened, Charles II made an attack in that direction. He gained ground  against the militia positioned there, but after three hours of fighting Cromwell's cavalry re-crossed the Teme and came to their aid. The Royalists were forced back into the city where fighting continued in the streets. With Cromwell advancing on all sides, Charles II fled the battle and eventually made his way to France. The English Civil War was finally over.

References in main text:

     VII   Peace and Prosperity (1)
    VIII   War and Poverty (4)