In the first five years of his reign Charles I summoned and dissolved Parliament three times. Charles now tried to rule England without the House of Commons and the House of Lords. For the next eleven years no Parliaments were held.
The king's main adviser was William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud argued that the king ruled by Divine Right. He claimed that the king had been appointed by God and people who disagreed with him were bad Christians. Laud believed that Church reforms had gone too far. Anglicans tended to support the policies of Laud but the Puritans strongly disagreed with him.
When Laud gave instructions that the wooden communion tables in churches should be replaced by stone altars. Puritans accused Laud of trying to reintroduce Catholicism. Laud also upset the Puritans (Presbyterians) in Scotland when he insisted they had to use the English Prayer Book. Scottish Presbyterians were furious and made it clear they were willing to fight to protect their religion. In 1639 the Scottish army marched on England. Charles, unable to raise a strong army, was forced to agree not to interfere with religion in Scotland. Charles also agreed to pay the Scottish war expenses.
Charles did not have the money to pay the Scots and so he had to ask Parliament for help. The Parliament summoned in 1640 lasted for twenty years and is therefore usually known as The Long Parliament. This time Parliament was determined to restrict the powers of the king. Under the leadership of John Pym, a law was passed which stated that Parliament should in future meet every three years. It was also decided to take away the king's right to dissolve Parliament. Other laws were passed making it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes.
Parliament then passed a law that gave members control over the king's ministers. Charles I was furious and decided it was time to retaliate. On 4 January 1642, Charles sent his soldiers to arrest John Pym, Arthur Haselrig, John Hampden, Denzil Holles and William Strode. The five men managed to escape before the soldiers arrived. Members of Parliament no longer felt safe from Charles and decided to form their own army. After failing to arrest the Five Members, Charles fled from London. Aware that Civil War was inevitable, Charles began to form an army.
Religion was an important factor in deciding which side people supported. The king's persecution of Puritans meant that most members of this religious group supported Parliament, whereas most Anglicans and Catholics tended to favour the royalists. Large landowners often persuaded their workers to join their army. Landowners living in the north and south-west of England and Wales tended to side with the king, whereas people living in London and the counties in the south-east of England mainly supported Parliament.
A large number of the nobility in England joined the king's army. At that time, upper-class men were trained at a young age to ride horses. This meant that Charles had the advantage of having a very good cavalry. Parliament's soldiers gave them the nickname Cavaliers (Spanish horseman called cavalieros had been responsible for killing Protestants in Europe). Parliament troops were called Roundheads because some of the younger soldiers in the army had their hair cut very short.
In October, 1642, Charles I and his Royalist forces began marching on London. The Parliamentary army attempted to block their way and engaged the Royalists at Edgehill on 23rd October. It is estimated that both sides had around 14,000 men.
Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers made the first attack and easily defeated Robert Devereux, the commander of the left-wing of the Parliamentary forces. Lord Wilmot also had success on the right-wing and this left the foot soldiers of both sides to fight it out in the centre. The Parliamentarians held their line and their calvary managed to attack the Royalist flank.
Prince Rupert's cavalrymen lacked discipline and continued to follow those who ran from the battlefield. John Byron and his regiment also joined the chase. The royalist calvary did not return to the battlefield until over an hour after the initial charge. By this time the horses were so tired they were unable to mount another attack against the Roundheads. The fighting ended at nightfall.
Robert Devereux decided to withdraw his men to Warwick. This left the Royalists free to march on London. However, Charles I decided to make his way to Oxford, which became his headquarters for the duration of the war.
The Royalist and Parliamentary armies used similar tactics and weapons during the Civil War. Before a battle began both sides would line up facing each other. In the centre would be the infantry brigades of musketeers and pikemen. On each side of the infantry were the cavalry. The right-wing would be led by the lieutenant-general, the left-wing by the commissary general.
The heavy artillery was stationed at the rear where it could fire over the heads of the infantry. Smaller cannons, that fired nails and scrap iron in canvas bags, were positioned in front of the infantry. Most soldiers were provided with armour that covered their breasts and backs. Armour was expensive and on many occasions some members of the infantry were forced to wear leather tunics instead. Although completely inadequate against gunfire, these tunics did provide some protection against swords.
The pikeman carried pikes that were between twelve and eighteen feet long. When the enemy employed a cavalry charge, the musketeers sheltered behind and between the pikemen. During the cavalry charge the pikemen aimed their pikes at the chests of the oncoming horses.
Musketeers carried a matchlock. Although the matchlock was not very accurate it could kill a man from three hundred yards. Because of the state of medical welfare at that time, any shot wound would probably result in the soldier dying. The main disadvantage of the matchlock was the time it took to reload after each shot. To solve this problem, musketeers in the front line fired their matchlocks and then they retired to the back to reload.
Another strategy involved the musketeers in the first line kneeling, the second line crouching and the third line standing. The three lines of musketeers all fired at the same time. After firing, these men went to the back and were replaced by the next three lines of musketeers.
The men in the cavalry also carried either a short-barrelled musket or a flint-locked carbine. The main strategy was to advance at a quick trot until in range of the enemy. The men in the front fired, then wheeled away. In their second charge they advanced at full gallop using either a short sword or cutlass.
In the Civil War, the opening of the battle usually involved groups of cavalry. The main objective was to make the opposing cavalry run away. When that happened, the victorious cavalry turned on the enemy infantry. Well-disciplined pikemen, brave enough to hold their ground, could do tremendous damage to a cavalry charging straight at them. There are several examples of cavalry men having three or four horses killed under them in one battle.
The king's nephew, Prince Rupert, was put in charge of the cavalry. Although Rupert was only twenty-three he already had a lot of experience fighting in the Dutch army. Prince Rupert introduced a new cavalry tactic that he had learnt fighting in Sweden. This involved charging full speed at the enemy. The horses were kept close together and just before impact the men fired their pistols.
During the early stages of the Civil War the parliamentary army was at a great disadvantage. Most of the soldiers had never used a sword or musket before. When faced with Prince Rupert's cavalry charging at full speed, they often turned and ran.
One of the Roundhead officers who saw Prince Rupert's cavalry in action was a man called Oliver Cromwell. Although Cromwell had no military training, his experience as a large landowner gave him a good knowledge of horses. Cromwell became convinced that if he could produce a well-disciplined army he could defeat Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers. He knew that pikemen, armed with sixteen-foot-long pikes, who stood their ground during a cavalry attack, could do a tremendous amount of damage.
Oliver Cromwell also noticed that Prince Rupert's cavalry were not very well disciplined. After they charged the enemy they went in pursuit of individual targets. At the first major battle of the civil war at Edgehill, most of Prince Rupert's cavalrymen did not return to the battlefield until over an hour after the initial charge. By this time the horses were so tired they were unable to mount another attack against the Roundheads.
Cromwell trained his cavalry to keep together after a charge. In this way his men could repeatedly charge the Cavaliers. Cromwell's new cavalry took part in its first major battle at Marston Moor in Yorkshire in July 1644. The king's soldiers were heavily defeated in the battle. Cromwell's soldiers became known as the Ironsides' because of the way they cut through the Cavaliers on the battlefield.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Parliament relied on soldiers recruited by large landowners who supported their cause. In February 1645, Parliament decided to form a new army of professional soldiers and amalgamated the three armies of William Waller, Earl of Essex and Earl of Manchester. This army of 22,000 men became known as the New Model Army. Its commander-in-chief was General Thomas Fairfax, while Oliver Cromwell was put in charge of its cavalry.
Members of the New Model Army received proper military training and by the time they went into battle they were very well-disciplined. In the past, people became officers because they came from powerful and wealthy families. In the New Model Army men were promoted when they showed themselves to be good soldiers. For the first time it became possible for working-class men to become army officers. Cromwell thought it was very important that soldiers in the New Model Army believed strongly in what they were fighting for. Where possible he recruited men who, like him, held strong Puritan views and the New Model Army went into battle singing psalms, convinced that God was on their side.
The New Model Army took part in its first major battle just outside the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire on 14 June 1645. The battle began when Prince Rupert led a charge against the left wing of the parliamentary cavalry which scattered and Rupert's men then gave chase.
While this was going on Oliver Cromwell launched an attack on the left wing of the royalist cavalry. This was also successful and the royalists that survived the initial charge fled from the battlefield. While some of Cromwell's cavalry gave chase, the majority were ordered to attack the now unprotected flanks of the infantry. Charles I was waiting with 1,200 men in reserve. Instead of ordering them forward to help his infantry he decided to retreat. Without support from the cavalry, the royalist infantry realised their task was impossible and surrendered.
By the time Prince Rupert's cavalry returned to the battlefield the fighting had ended. Rupert's cavalry horses were exhausted after their long chase and were not in a fit state to take on Cromwell's cavalry. Rupert had no option but to ride off in search of Charles I.
The battle was a disaster for the king. About 1,000 of his men had been killed, while another 4,500 of his most experienced men had been taken prisoner. The Parliamentary forces were also able to capture Charles' baggage train that contained his complete stock of guns and ammunition.
The Battle of Naseby was the turning point in the war. After Naseby, Charles was never able to raise another army strong enough to defeat the parliamentary army in a major battle.
Charles continued to rally support from his base in Oxford. In January 1647, Charles fled to Scotland where he was captured and handed over to the parliamentary army. Charles was imprisoned in Hampton Court, but in November 1647 he escaped and managed to raise another army.
This time Charles was able to persuade the Scots to fight on his side. In August 1648 Cromwell's parliamentary army defeated the Scots and once again Charles I was taken prisoner and the war came to an end.
It has been estimated that about 100,000 soldiers were killed during the Civil War. The majority of these died from army fever (a form of typhus) rather than from injuries received on the battlefield.