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The English Civil War

Herefordshire had enjoyed peace since the Battle of Mortimer's Cross during the Wars of the Roses in 1461, when Edward of York (later to be proclaimed Edward IV) defeated Owen Tudor. Even though Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had been involved in wars, these military confrontations did not reach Herefordshire soil. This county only became a fighting ground again in September 1642, the beginning of the first Civil War. This section will deal mainly with the first of the two Civil Wars, because Herefordshire was not greatly affected by the second one in 1648, or by the Scottish invasion of 1651 when Charles II had to flee the country.

Causes of the Civil Wars

Tracing the roots of this conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, which led to such bloody confrontations and divided communities and even families, is a difficult undertaking. When studying this complex question, a combination of factors must be taken into consideration.

For some historians the most important factor was the religious conflict between puritans/protestants and the traditional elements of the Church of England, followers of Archbishop Laud who, according to his critics, tried to bring elements of Catholicism back into the church. Charles's support for Laud's reforms and his insistence on introducing the English Prayer Book in Scotland led to war with that country, an undertaking the king could ill afford and which cost him dearly, both in financial and in political terms.

Others believe the root cause of the Civil Wars was economic. Fighting wars costs money and the king needed money. Since the days of Magna Carta, parliament had had to approve taxation. In the lead up to the Civil Wars, parliament used this power to try to control the king. It decided not to grant him any money unless he gave in to their demands, such as stopping Laud's reforms of the church and calling parliament at regular intervals. King Charles thereupon decided to raise his own taxes, such as the ship money, without the consent of parliament, but these taxes were unpopular and many people refused to collect or pay them.

Some argue that the main problem was political: the power struggle between the king - who felt he was chosen by God to rule without interference - and parliament, who believed that the elected MPs should have a say in the running of the country and the raising of taxes. The question of who was to control the army is a good example of this power struggle. In 1642 Charles had burst into the House of Commons with 400 soldiers to arrest five MPs who had openly opposed him. The men, having been forewarned, had managed to escape, but this incident led parliament to distrust Charles even more. When the Londoners turned against the king he fled north to York. By March 1642, parliament had decided to take control of the army.

One of the complicating factors in this growing conflict is that not all MPs held the same views. Especially where religion was concerned, there were grave divisions. Some MPs wanted to get rid of all bishops, and even the Church of England itself. Others believed that such drastic measures would lead to chaos. However, as time went on, the more extreme members of parliament got the upper hand and the demands of parliament became more revolutionary. What finally divided the king's supporters from his opponents were the "Nineteen Propositions" drawn up by some Members of Parliament. It included demands that parliament choose the king's advisers, that the king's children cannot marry without parliament's approval, that parliament decides on how the church should be reformed and that parliament is to control the army. This was the point of no return. People had to decide on whom to support: their king or parliament.

Today, we might not consider parliament's position so radical, but keep in mind that the year is 1642, less than 50 years since the reign of Elizabeth I, an absolute ruler with almost absolute powers. Many of the changes brought about by the Civil Wars have influenced the way we view the role of parliament and the limits on the powers of the monarch. According to the author Bob Carruthers, it was a changing society, a change in the way people viewed religion and politics, which was at the root of the Civil Wars:

"We can be fairly certain ... that the causes of the war which led Englishmen to fight against other Englishmen in the bitter conflict which erupted into life in 1642, stemmed from the disruptive process of evolution. In this case, the evolution of the Church and Constitution from a medieval society to a modern nation state."

Charles felt that parliament's demands would make him a phantom king. He contacted loyal supporters in each county to try to raise an army. It took him four months before he felt he was strong enough to raise his standard, which he did on August 22nd in Nottingham.

Parliament too prepared for war.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2003]