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The English Civil War

Charles I, Cromwell, The Glorious Revolution, and More

What you need to know

Things:

  • House of Lords
  • House of Commons
  • Nobility
  • Gentry
  • Divine right of kings
  • Anglicanism
  • Arminianism
  • Petition of Right
  • Ship tax
  • Prayerbook
  • Grand Remonstrance
  • Cavaliers
  • Roundheads
  • New Model Army
  • Navigation Acts
  • Bill of Rights

People:

  • Tutors
  • Stuarts
  • James I
  • Francis Bacon
  • Charles I
  • Henrietta Maria
  • William Laud
  • John Pym
  • Oliver Cromwell
  • John Bradshaw
  • Diggers
  • Levelers
  • Ranters
  • Quakers
  • Charles II
  • Louis XIV
  • James I
  • William of Orange

Events:

  • Impeachment of Francis Bacon
  • Personal Rule
  • Bishop’s War
  • Short Parliament
  • Marston Moor
  • Naseby
  • Second Civil War
  • Long Parliament
  • Trial and Execution of Charles I
  • Irish Revolt
  • Rump Parliament
  • Interregnum
  • Restoration
  • Glorious Revolution

Works:

Questions to answer
  • How did the reign of the Tudors influence the period from 1603 to 1689?
  • Discuss the role of religion in the run-up to the English Civil War.
  • Discuss the role of economics in the run-up to the English Civil War.
  • Discuss the role of politics in the run-up to the English Civil War.
  • What was the significance of the Petition of Right?
  • Weigh the balance of which side was more provocative in inciting War.
  • How did the trial and execution of Charles reflect differing constitutional visions?
  • In what way(s) did religion influence the course of the Interregnum?
  • Evaluate the successes and failures of the Interregnum.
  • Why did Parliament carry out the Glorious Revolution?
  • In what ways did the English Civil War influence the founding of America?
Sample questions answered

Discuss the role of religion in the run-up to the English Civil War.

Religion was one of the fundamental causes of the English Civil War. We can see this in the way the Stuart family leaned Catholic, in the splits within the Protestant community, and in how these issues entangled Charles I in foreign affairs.

James I, the first of the Stuart line to be a king of England, was a descendant of Mary Queen of Scotts, a Catholic queen who had vied for the English throne with Elizabeth. This caused Englishmen to be suspicious of his religious intentions. These suspicions were deepened when James’ son, Charles I, married the Catholic Bourbon princess, Henrietta Maria. At the beginning of the Civil War, rumor was rife in England that Charles was trying to foist his “popish” religion on the people.

The Protestant sects were themselves splintered. Anglicanism, the state church, was strongly influenced by the top-down type of organization associated with Catholicism. At the other extreme was the extremely bottoms-up faith practiced by English Puritans, including John Pym and Oliver Cromwell. And in the middle was the Presbyterian faith which was strong in Scotland. All of these faiths vied for influence in Parliament in the lead-up to War.

Finally, these conflicting religious currents entangled Charles in the run-up to War. The Bishop’s War in Scotland came about as the Scottish Presbyterians rejected the new prayerbook that Charles tried to foist on them. This greatly weakened Charles position in the state. But it was when Parliament refused to give Charles the money to suppress the revolt of the Catholics in Ireland that he finally broke with London, moved his house to Oxford, and began the English Civil War.

In conclusion, religion was central to the run-up to War. Its influence was felt in the way the Stuart family leaned Catholic, in the splits within the Protestant faith, and in the way both sects entangled Charles in foreign policy.


What was the significance of the Petition of Right?

The Petition of Right was a landmark in Western constitutionalism. It included the admission by the king that the people had rights, that he had violated them, and that it was within the responsibility of Parliament to protect those rights. As such, it represented a momentous shift in political power from the king to the Parliament.

In the Petition, which was signed in 1628, Charles acknowledged that the people had rights which could be traced back to the Magna Carta of 1215. These included the right to no taxation without representation, the right to due process of law—habeas corpus—and the right to be free from martial law in peacetime.

In the Petition, Charles admitted that he had violated these rights. He had imprisoned 76 Nobles who had refused to loan him money. He had five of them imprisoned. They challenged their imprisonment in court, and it was overturned, on the basis of the rights cited above. Thus Charles admitted to a fundamental breach of law and duty..

Finally, he acknowledged in the Petition that it was fully within the power of Parliament to hold him accountable for such breaches. As such, the Petition struck at the heart of the doctrine of the divine right of kings—the idea that the king was above the law. This was an unprecedented admission that fundamentally shifted the balance of power in English governance from the king to the Parliament.

In the Petition of Right, Charles acknowledged that the people had rights. He admitted that he had violated those rights. And he acceded to the right of Parliament to hold him accountable for those transgressions. As such, The Petition represented a major turning point in the balance of constitutional power between king and Parliament.


In what ways did the English Civil War influence the founding of America?

America is the inescapable heir of its English roots. The English Civil War had a profound influence on the founding of the United States. That influence can be seen in the fact of Constitutionalism itself, in the assignation of Rights to the people, and in the very structure of American government.

Constitutionalism is the idea that there is a set of rules—a Constitution—by which government must operate. Before the English Civil War, this was only a very tenuous idea, greatly overshadowed by the “divine right of kings.” But Constitutionalism gained substance through the Petition of Right, the overthrow and execution of Charles I, and the Glorious Revolution.

One of the essential documents of the Glorious Revolution was the English Bill of Rights. Before Parliament would accept William of Orange assuming the throne of England, it required him to accede to a formal Bill of Rights for the English people. The Continental Congress also required a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of the newly-independent American people.

Finally, the very structure of the U.S. government reflects the regard that the English Founding Fathers had for their historical experience. Checks and balances, executive veto, legislative override, judicial review, and separation of church and state all owe their presence in the American system to the trial and tribulations that required them of their English forebears.

The English Civil War was an essential force in framing the way the American system was designed. Constitutionalism, a formal Bill of Rights, and the very structure of government itself all can be traced to the English people’s experience in the crucible of their Civil War.

Original documents
Supplementary notes
Intro to the book

Democracy is a fleeting commodity. After its birth in Ancient Greece and its evolution into republicanism in Ancient Rome, it disappeared from the Western world. For a thousand years after the Fall of Rome, government in Europe was a competition between the Catholic Church, local feudal lords, and weak and local kings. Around 1500, political power began to consolidate into regional monarchies—the kings in Spain, France, and England. These became the first of what we know of today as nation states. But they were not democracies.

It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that democracy was reborn in the Western world. Its re-birth occurred in England as a result of the English Civil War. It was in this War that the forces of Parliament overturned the “divine right of kings.” Before the century was over, England would be governed by an entirely new form of government, a constitutional monarchy. Power was shared between an executive branch (monarchy) and a legislative branch (Parliament) with a set of rules for how the country would be governed—a constitution. This book explains how that transition came about.

It begins with a discussion of the fundamental conflicts that underlay the Civil War: economic; religious; and political. It examines the rulers and events that led up to war, and then the War itself. It looks in some detail at the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649 and their implications for the balance of power in government. It analyzes the Interregnum under the rule of Oliver Cromwell when both the monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished. It quickly peruses the Restoration of monarchy in 1660 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It concludes with a reflection on the importance of the period and events to the founding of America.

These events were crucial to the transition in the Western World from political systems dominated by monarchy and divine right to systems centered in representation and constitutionalism. In fact, the importance of the Civil War, especially as they affected the creation of the United States and the nature of its government, is impossible to overstate. This is that story.

Table of Contents to the book
  1.  Introduction
  2. Fundamental Conflicts
    1. Economic Conflicts
    2. Religious Conflicts
    3. Political Conflicts
  3. Prelude to War
    1. James I
    2. Charles I
  4. The Civil War
  5. The Trial and Execution of Charles I
  6. The Interregnum
  7. The Restoration
    1. Charles II
    2. James II
  8. The Glorious Revolution
  9. Reflections on the Founding of America
  10. Timeline
Comments and Questions

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