What Was The Main Cause Of The English Civil War

The first English Civil War took place between parliamentarians and royalists over the course of four years, from 1642 to 1646. It consisted of much political conspiracy and armed contention from both sides who had encountered great difficulty in co-operating during the flawed reign of Charles I.The war was a result of parliament’s general frustration at the monarch’s policies, and the influence of the conflicts in Ireland and Scotland. Parliament’s ultimate aim was not to dispose of Charles I from the throne, but to pressurize and obligate the King to abide by the policies in which they desire the country to be run. Supporters of Charles were to battle against parliament, and so began the events of the civil war.This essay will consider the causes of the civil war through events preceding 1642 from a series of different aspects. Social, political, economic, religious and military accounts will be excogitated and I will venture to find a conclusion to what I believe was the most notable in motivating the war.Charles I was a highly introverted character during his time as King of England and Scotland. He did not enjoy speaking or having any satisfactory form of communication to the public that he ruled over, and suffered from poor social skills. As a supporter of Arminianism, he abided by the divine right of kings, allowing him to remain silent in times of public commotion. From 1629 to 1640, he governed under a personal rule (also known as the “Eleven Years Tyranny”) and was capable of operating without the need for a parliamentary system – to do this, he had to cut his expenditure drastically and sign peace treaties with France and Spain early in his rule to prevent further wars. This also brought in increased customs revenue as English trade and commerce had been revived at this time of peace. It proved a highly controversial manner to reign and was heavily criticized from all quarters.Charles refused to compromise on his adherence towards Episcopacy and this culminated in the Root Branch Petition of 1640, of which consisted of 15,000 London-based signatures from those who were suffering at the time against the King’s policies. Many people were suspicious of this church-led government and preferred the idea of its abolishment. This represented people’s unease towards Charles’ approach, and highlighted his social and political naivety. Historian Christopher Hill believed that these events were part of a social movement that stemmed from a class war (“‘The state power protecting an old order that was essentially feudal was violently overthrown, power passed into the hands of a new class, and so the freer development of capitalism was made possible. The civil war was a class war”) and that those under the rule at the time felt that “they needed a new voice”.As previously implied, Charles’ personal rule cut off almost all political input from any area and this not only isolated many politicians but also this “creative reform” (as referred to by recent historians such as Kevin Sharpe) brought about many mistakes and dubious decision making. One of the most notable was being drawn into war in Scotland – Presbyterians had viciously reacted against the reformation of the church in the country and drew Charles into a war, therefore forcing him to recall parliament in April 1640 for the first time in over a decade to help fund the impending struggle. Although the House of Commons had allowed these imbursements, it was eventually demanded that the issue of Charles’ Personal Rule and its various violations of power must be addressed. Neither Charles nor his opposition could reach any kind of conclusion and the “Short Parliament” was disbanded in May.After a denigrating degradation in the attempt to defeat Scotland, Charles was faced with the Treaty of Ripon, which demanded reparations for the damages caused towards the Scottish army. Following this, Charles summoned the magnum concilium, who were the King’s hereditary counsellors – a bizarre decision considering that it had not been summoned for centuries. They advised the King to recall Parliament once again to cope with the consequences of the Bishops’ Wars, which was the case in November with the formation of the “Long Parliament”. However, this proved as problematic as events earlier in the year for Charles, as he became worried that the people in control, notably leader John Pym, were attempting to restrict his power and undermine the rule and policies that were in place.His fears were realized in February of 1641 when the Triennial Act was passed; preventing Charles from dissolving Parliament if and when he pleased, while enforcing a mandatory condition noting that it must be called once every three years. Shortly after, the King was backed into more concessions, including the illegalization of ship money and the abolishment of the Courts of Star Chamber and Court of High Commission, two feared arbitrary courts in which Archbishop William Laud punished those who refused to accept religious reforms, which were widely despised. These events would culminate in the Grand Remonstrance of November 1641 – initially proposed by Pym, an exceptionally detailed account of Charles’ transgressions and misdemeanours throughout the time he had reigned as King; a vital factor precipitating the English Civil War. The King long delayed releasing a reply until Parliament threatened to publically release the document, forcing a quick response. In spite of seemingly moderate negotiations, rumours began to circulate that Parliament had intentions of impeaching Queen Henrietta Maria. Charles was fiercely defensive of his Catholic wife and as a result of hearing this; he no longer felt safe in London and fled north to raise an army.The aforementioned ship money was an “obsolete” feudal tax reinstated during Charles’ Personal Rule, and was used to pay for ships to protect the country from foreign encroachment. Everyone was made to bear its expense and it proved fatally unpopular as it faced much opposition, especially in the years 1635 and 1636 when the second and third writs were issued. Charles pursued the collection of this in time of peace, contrasting to the reigns of Edwards I and III when they only converged it during wartime – the royal courts, however, declared that the levy of ship money was “within the King’s prerogative” as it was raising money without the reconvention of Parliament. Other taxes that Charles imposed notably included the “Distraint of Knighthood”, based on a thirteenth century custom which required freeholders who owned land worth up to �40 a year to attend the King’s coronation in order to be knighted. In 1630, those who did not turn up were fined, and thereafter had to buy their knighthoods, as well as becoming liable to further taxes as a result of their elevated social status. People with property within limits of the boundaries of the Royal forests during Edward I’s reign were fined for encroachment, and the Court of Wards was exploited so that the King became an acting guardian to the children of rich parents who had passed away, profiting by selling the estates that those children would have acquired through inheritance.Also during the Personal Rule, Charles’ foreign policy revolved around isolating England from any non-domestic conflict. This, of course, compensated for the lack of funds – as did the avoidance of any major innovations in the country’s communities. People were upset with the lack of advances at the time and this represents another reason as to why many people felt disgruntled under Charles’ reign.Another factor that enraged the public was Charles’ lifestyle and expensive taste. He held a firm interest in art and culture and purchased many paintings and portraits from established artists, such as Raphael and Titian (his collection of art was later dispersed by Oliver Cromwell). They felt that because they had limited resources on which to survive at this time, it was unfair of the King to spend abnormally high amounts of money on products that he could have easily survived without.Charles’ lifestyle was reflected in his religious practice. Whereas Protestants favoured a plainer approach towards worship and their churches, the King was far more elaborate in these issues, enjoying a high Anglican form of worship which was deeply ritualistic and extensively decorated.Many Protestants believed that Charles secretly followed the Catholic religion. Henrietta Maria was one herself and this did nothing but increase the speculation, many linking the sacramental direction in which the church was heading to the threat of Roman Catholicism and as referenced by historian Robert Clifton, a “fear of Popery”. The reign of Mary I still survived long in the memory of many peoples’ minds, where non-Catholics were frequently burned at the stake in what is referred to as the Marian Persecutions.William Laud was Charles’ political advisor, and both shared the same religious attitude. Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, he was the pioneer of several religious reforms, all of which were unpopular. These included closing Puritan organizations (Puritans took place in the “Great Migration”, moving to Massachusetts to escape from the system) and advocating Arminian liturgy – a move seen as heretical beyond belief by devout Calvinists, who saw their theologies overlooked and ignored. The unpopularity of Laud and suppression of the idealism that England was used to was undoubtedly a major factor in causing the Civil War.The Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber were used to punish those who did not abide by and accept the reforms applied by Charles and William Laud. The Star Chamber was especially brutal, torturing by many different methods in order to reveal testimonies and evidence. Lawyer William Prynne and John Lilburne were notable victims of the court for their idealisms – Lilburne’s case was a decisive factor in Parliament’s decision to enforce the Habeas Corpus Act 1640, shutting down the court which had become such a pivotal element in the abuse of Charles’ power during the Personal Rule.Arguably the most prominent circumstance in religious events was Charles’ decision to introduce the Book of Common Prayer in Scotland in 1637 with no attempt to consult figures of authority beforehand. Scottish Presbyterians vehemently objected to its ordered usage in riotous outbursts across the country, memorably in St. Giles Cathedral of Edinburgh where an item was alleged to have been thrown at the head minister by a market trader named Jenny Geddes – an incident which sparked riots leading to the Bishop’s Wars and, eventually, the Civil War. The Bishop’s Wars in 1639 and 1640 were two armed encounters featuring Charles and a coalition of forces against Scottish Covenanters, after the Episcopalian government he had imposed was replaced with Presbyterian control in 1638 – a move that Charles felt had undermined his authority and power in a shocking act of rebellion. This religious conflict left Charles with no choice but to reintroduce Parliament, marking the Bishop’s Wars as an important precursor to the Civil War.The religious tension documented above also spread to Ireland, however the threat was in reverse here. Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, feared a Protestant invasion. As Charles had been defeated by a considerable margin in the Bishop’s Wars, he turned to the Irish Catholic gentry for military assistance in ending the rebellions in Scotland, and in return would grant them the opportunity to openly practice their religion. The violent anarchy that broke out in October 1641 lasted until the following summer with the formation of the Catholic Confederation, which would organize a war effort against the remaining British armies in Ireland.An additional military cause was the Militia Ordinance of March 1642. Parliament passed this without the King’s consent, as with many other things at the time. Control over the Militia became disputable, as when Charles attempted to arrest five Parliamentarians in January of that year, he lost a considerable amount of trust from them and as a result, they denied the King control of Military forces. This would have made the possibility of conflict more improbable as Charles could not take an army and use it against Parliament, but because the Militia Ordinance was passed without receiving the royal assent, it was unprecedented and this Parliamentary sovereignty only served to increase the likelihood of war.Charles chose to oppose the Militia Ordinance by reviving the Commission of Array, which was a previously obsolete method of raising troops. Its aim was to basically prepare all fit inhabitants of a village for war, and this was the most obvious indication of all that the Civil War was inevitable. By June, most of the Royalist supporters had returned to their local districts to gather support for the upcoming war, as a document of nineteen propositions were raised by Parliamentarians, one of which stating that “The education of the King’s children shall be approved by Parliament, and no marriage for any of the King’s children without the consent of Parliament”. This was unacceptable for Charles, as were numerous other points which ensured Parliament’s aim was to control the country, rendering Charles in a near-powerless state. In August, Charles had raised his standard in Nottingham and the Civil War had begun.Overall, the causes of the Civil War were widespread over several different aspects. Some were more important than others, however all contributed greatly over the course of the Personal Rule and the Parliamentary reforms that followed. There were moderately significant causes, such as the introverted personality of Charles I and his unwillingness to co-operate in a consistent manner – a social aspect that under the circumstances of the country proved difficult to work around as the dissolution of Parliament was a central issue, and the lack of funds meant the King had to increase revenue by introducing taxes, such as the notorious ship money – an economic decision which enraged the public, as did many others. On a par with the importance of these social and economic expressions were that of military events, and the restriction of the power to control armies by Parliament, and the Irish Rebellion. However, I believe that religious issues were of a much more important nature. It is evident that there was a massive divide in the beliefs of the country, and as people are passionate about their beliefs, they will stand up to what they see as true and would be enraged if their reckonings were to be challenged, let alone deal with the abrupt imposition of something completely different (the enforcement of the Common Book of Prayer in Scotland, c. 1637).In conclusion, and in spite of the importance of religion during these times, my opinion is that the political causes outweigh all else, in particular the intrusions on Charles’ policies by the John Pym-led Long Parliament in 1641. The Grand Remonstrance was a direct attack on the King, as were a series of other statements issued – and, as a monarch, Charles’ only option was to enter into war to quell the threat that Parliament pressured, as life alongside it had become intolerable while having the majority of his power limited considerably and his reputation tarnished.