The English Civil War, an Introduction to the social and political impact

Welcome one and all to a blog post evaluating the Civil war during the 17th century.  Now I assume many of us have heard of Cromwell and Charles I.  One argued to be a tyrannical King and the other apparently the bringer of freedom.  Well both of these judges of character can be easily debated to be the other way round.  Cromwell has much to answer to, I sometimes think him of a genocidal maniac, but perhaps that is too extreme.  Whatever your opinion of him, he is all we talk about regarding the parliamentarians.  Charles however, decided to rule without parliament and tried to rule absolutely, which at the time was unpopular, above all, he appeared to be a Catholic.  Catholics were deemed to be oppressors and loyal only to the Pope, something that many thought would oppress their freedom and rights.  However, Charles is all we really hear about when discussing the Cavaliers (men who sided with the King).  Therefore this post will discuss the social and political impacts of the war, without spending my focus on either Cromwell or Charles!  So lets begin, welcome to the English revolution!

Socially, the Civil war saw 13% of the British population die, either in battle or by diseases that appeared due to the warfare that was happening throughout the nation.  This is a staggering amount of people, considering in relation the First World War saw 3%.  The impacts it would have on communities was devastating, people’s homes destroyed, men needed for farming, now gone, and of course the rise of disease, families were also torn apart, brother against brother, son against father.  The consequences of the war would also change people’s lives.  Military districts were established, and laws passed that closed theatres and of course as we well know, banning Christmas.  Perhaps one of the biggest changes was the establishment of the New Model Army, but this is a term we must be careful using, considering most of this army was still conscripted like the Royalists, they were just better trained and given a stable wage.  This army would allow the King in the future of parliament to control the nation, by force, by the threat of violence.  Perhaps also one may argue that the creation of this army allowed men of different counties to mix, to help solidify the image of being English.  But did much actually change?  Well not really, the war didn’t really affect people’s direct lives, once the war was won/lost, people returned home and carried on with their day-to-day lives, Catholics had to go into hiding, and the Protestants enjoyed a time of risen attendances, but generally people didn’t see much change.  After all, Cromwell would become basically a King in all by name, ruling through the army in which he controlled.  He fought wars with other Protestant states for economic reasons, the same as Charles II would.  After Cromwell’s death, the King was reinstated and life returned to as normal, with a monarch and his parliament.  The thousands of death that happened previously were all for nought.

Politically, we see the only time in British history, where there is no monarch, in a way we see a revolution.  Yes England has revolted many a time, just because it isn’t called one in name, doesn’t mean it is not one!  But the issue is, the civil war did not change much, Cromwell was basically a King, and Charles II returned and took revenge on all those who signed his father’s death warrant.  England had returned to what it what.  In fact, under the Cavalier’s, people who supported the King, it could be argued that they were more progressive than the parliamentarians.  Now I don’t like using the word progressive, it’s a word too often used today, but, what I mean here is that people like Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle was one of the greatest horse riders in Europe and updated the art of dressage, making it fairer on the horse and therefore was an advocate of animal protection.  Cavendish also allowed his wife to dabble in education, he allowed his daughters to write plays and poetry, which were performed to the King.  Even if some of their practices were questionable, the royalists and Charles II brought stability and continuity, something that the nation craved.

If you are looking for a more important and influential part of British history, may I point you no further than to 1689, and the Glorious revolution!  This saw the Dutch William of Orange and his English wide Mary become joint King and Queen of England, and certainly was a big turning point in English history!  It was really the last time England was ever properly invaded and conquered and saw a Catholic monarch deposed, replaced by Protestants.  The reign and decline of James II is one that could have its own blog post, but in brief, he wasn’t well liked by parliament!

The civil war shows the distaste of Catholics at the time, but also shows the desire of freedom of worship; the King should not impose his beliefs on the nation.  The war however, changed little, perhaps it added a larger resentment to Catholicism, which in turn created a them and us mentality, and further cemented the English identity, one that still is there today, but it wasn’t until the Bill of rights, the glorious revolution of 1689, where we would see change in politics in Britain.  It saw the end to the Anglo-Dutch wars, but it took power from the King, and gave more to parliament, in fact it was probably what the parliamentarians wanted all long.

I would like to end this post however, referring to the picture at the top of this blog post, this is a monument to those who died at the Battle of Naseby, it shows that there can be and has been remembrance of the deaths during the time period, however, there are no names of course!  However, the deaths of the civil war are largely ignored and seen as statistics, perhaps we should focus more on the lives of these men!

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