In Brief – Civil War & Restoration

The execution by beheading of Charles I on 30th January 1649 on a scaffold erected outside Banqueting House, Whitehall

Throughout recorded history religion has played an important part in everyday life all over Europe. In England the country had followed the Roman Catholic form of Christian worship until the Reformation that started during the reign of Henry VIII, leading to the development of the Anglican form. In the early part of the 17th century a difference of opinion began to emerge amongst Protestants. A growing body of Calvinists were much more intense in their religious beliefs, leading a strict lifestyle and rigorous regime of worship, taking prayers, religious study and meditation several times each day and often attending church throughout the week. They believed the Church of England needed to go much further in its reforms.

Protestants who disagreed with the official Church of England – known as ‘Dissenters’ – were excluded from holding most professional positions on the grounds that to do so would require them to show loyalty to religious and political laws to which they disagreed. They had instead turned to farming, manufacturing and trade, including importing and exporting to and from Virginia, with many becoming wealthy. As outsiders to the political process, which was controlled by King Charles and his ministers, they had a growing number of economic complaints, regarding taxes for example, that were hindering their businesses.

Scotland had officially been Presbyterian since 1592 but in 1637 Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, backed by Charles, instructed the Scottish Kirk to use the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. They objected and as the argument escalated the Scots raised an army to march on England. Charles needed finance to raise a defence but only Parliament, which he had suspended in 1629, could raise the necessary taxes. He was forced to recall Parliament in April 1640 but that led to numerous disagreements between King and MPs. After just three weeks he suspended it yet again and it became known as the ‘Short Parliament’.

As the Scots occupied Newcastle-upon-Tyne Charles was forced into the humiliating position of yet again recalling a hostile Parliament. It sat from November 1640 for eight years and thereby became known as the ‘Long Parliament’. When in January 1642 its MPs took steps to impeach his Catholic wife, Charles stormed the House of Commons in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest some of their number. The attempted arrests were a political mistake and the armed violation of Parliament turned many against Charles. Fearing reprisals, the King and royal family fled their palace at Whitehall. Henrietta Maria went abroad and Charles travelled north to raise an army of supporters. It was the beginning of civil war between Parliamentarians, supported by dissenters, and Royalists who were primarily Anglicans.

Both sides in the conflict knew that holding London was the key to victory and the Parliamentarians put in place plans for its defence. The old wall protected the City but not Westminster and other areas, so a new defensive ditch and towers were constructed around a much larger area.