The English Civil Wars – Part Two

Our first post about the English Civil Wars ended with Charles in the custody of the Scots. He may have lost the war, but he was determined to be the victor of the peace. Opinion was divided amongst the parliamentarians, and numerous factions were emerging. Charles hoped to take advantage of this in order to obtain a settlement that would be skewed in his favour. 

In July 1646, proposals known as the Newcastle Propositions were sent to Charles by Parliament. The Newcastle Propositions called for the establishment of Presbyterianism in England (as per an earlier agreement with the Scots), and for control of finances, religion, the army, and the selection of ministers to be handed over to Parliament. Charles had rejected similar terms in 1642. He delayed responding to the Propositions, as he had no desire to accept anything that would limit the royal prerogative.  

The Scots, independent of Parliament, put forward their own proposal to Charles. This was known as the Solemn League and Covenant, and also concerned the reformation of religion in England. However, they failed to reach an agreement with Charles. Instead, the Scots handed Charles over to the parliamentarians in January 1647. He was taken to Holdenby House in the Midlands, whilst the Scots withdrew from Newcastle. 

Charles I at Holdenby House, after Pieter Angellis.
Credit: Wellcome Collection, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Charles then attempted to reduce the demands of the Newcastle Propositions. He wanted the control of the militia by Parliament to be for 10 years only, rather than the proposed 20 years. The establishment of Presbyterianism should be limited to just three years, whilst his own freedom of worship was guaranteed. Charles was also unwilling to allow Parliament to make appointments in the government and the army. Unfortunately for Charles, his concessions came too late. The political climate within Parliament was ever-changing, and in the army, radicalism was growing in strength. The power of the king no longer seemed quite as fundamental as it did before. 

Oliver Cromwell is viewed as a key figure in events, though he was not committed to deposing Charles at this point. He believed that God was responsible for the victory of the Parliamentarians, and so he was mainly concerned with ensuring that the war hadn’t been fought in vain. Curiously, he was both an MP and a general of the New Model Army; this is significant as Cromwell was an exception to the 1645 Self-Denying Ordinance, which prevented MPs from holding military office. Cromwell, then, was well-placed to be central to the discourse of the period. As time passed, however, his beliefs became more aligned with the army. 

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper.
Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London.

The army gradually became more powerful in the aftermath of the First Civil War. As it had won the war for the parliamentarians, it believed it had a right to influence the peace. Parliament wanted the army to disband, and offered just eight weeks of pay towards this aim. However, the army opposed Parliament’s proposals. Believing that it could use force to further its objectives, the army took Charles from Holdenby House in June 1647. It decided upon the Solemn Engagement, which meant the army would refuse to disband until an agreement over pay had been made, and a settlement reached with Charles. Cromwell’s sympathies furthered their position of power, and it became clear that any settlement must take the army into account. 

Some troops, including the officers, were moderates. Others, however, were far more radical. This divide led to the Putney Debates of 1647. These were between the Levellers, who called for freedom of worship and for universal suffrage, and the Grandees, who were far more conservative. The entire army was called to meet about the proposals, though it was split across three locations so as to separate the radical leaders. One leader was shot, while another was arrested. Cromwell restored discipline in the army, and he was justified in ending the debates as Charles had escaped the army’s custody. 

In November 1647, Charles fled to the Isle of Wight. Hoping that the Scots would be more willing to accept his demands than Parliament, he opened negotiations with them. A settlement was reached, known as the Engagement. Presbyterianism would be established for three years, and the English army would be disbanded and the Scots relied upon for defence. This agreement was viewed as treacherous by Parliament; Charles was essentially negotiating with a foreign state. They voted to stop approaching Charles, and became more aligned with the views held by the army. Some began to consider the notion of removing the king. 

A woodcut of Charles I as a prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
© Image Asset Management Ltd/Alamy

The Second Civil War erupted in 1648. Royalist risings in Essex, Yorkshire and Wales were forcefully put down by the army. The Scots invaded in July, but they were slow to action and held up by troops in Yorkshire. Charles took no part in the War, as he was forbidden to leave the Isle of Wight. The Second Civil War lasted only February to August, and the New Model Army undoubtedly won. Whilst none had fought the First Civil War to depose Charles, the Second saw opinion change. At a prayer meeting in Windsor, the army declared its duty was to “call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account”. 

Charles was no longer viewed as a divine ruler. In the eyes of the army, God was on their side, as shown by their two victories. Charles had gone against God in starting the Second Civil War, and was to be punished for it. The army placed the bloodshed firmly on the king’s hands. They were no longer willing to negotiate with him, and they drew up numerous statements that suggested Charles had abused his powers as monarch and should be judged. Unlike the initial grievances of the Long Parliament, which argued that Charles was influenced by ‘evil advisers’, Charles was now regarded as individually responsible for his faults. 

His position was precarious, though not entirely fatal. Even at this point, the execution of a monarch was unthinkable. However, events would soon spiral to that point. 

Bibliography

  • Braddick, M. J. 2008. God’s Fury, England’s Fire : A New History of the English Civil Wars /. Allen Lane. 
  • Hill, Christopher. 1991. The World Turned Upside down : Radical Ideas during the English Revolution /. Penguin Books. 
  • Morrill, J. S. 1993. The Nature of the English Revolution : Essays /. Longman. 
  • Russell, Conrad. 1973. The Origins of the English Civil War; Problems in Focus Series (London, England). Macmillan. 
  • Roots, Ivan Alan, Colin Jones, M. D. D. Newitt, and Stephen Roberts. 1986. Politics and People in Revolutionary England : Essays in Honour of Ivan Roots /. Blackwell. 
  • Schama, Simon, and Alois Riegl. 2002. A History of Britain Schama, Simon. BBC. 

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