The first fighting took place in Hull in April 1642 but war was officially declared when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham in August. There was a minor battle at Brentford. The Parliamentarians gathered twenty thousand troops at Turnham Green but the Royalists decided not to challenge them and moved elsewhere. Although the war advanced towards London several times, particularly during 1643, it was to never come as close again.
On the Royalist side Prince Rupert emerged as an outstanding commander while the MP Oliver Cromwell became one of the main Parliamentary military leaders. The war was inconclusive in the early years but by the summer of 1646 the Parliamentarians were victorious and Charles was held captive.
There was disagreement between Parliamentarians as to what to do with the King, with some believing it best to negotiate and return him to the throne. Those who wished to put him on trial gained the upper hand. Monarchs had often been overthrown but this was something unprecedented and a Court of Commissioners was created. The trial began at Westminster Hall on 2nd January 1649 and at the end of the month fifty nine of the Commissioners – less than half – signed the King’s death warrant. Two days later, on a cold January morning, Charles was led across St.James’s Park to his execution by beheading outside Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace.
During the 1640s people holding a variety of different overlapping views – religious, Parliamentarian, anti-monarchist, republican or social – made up the anti-Royalist opposition. One such group came to be known as the Levellers, an early version of socialists or democrats.
Five months after the execution of Charles what was known as the ‘Rump Parliament’ declared the country as ‘the Commonwealth and Free State of England’. The monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican Church, with its hierarchy of archbishops and bishops, were all abolished. Those people formerly in prominent positions either fled abroad and remained in exile or moved away from London and lived quietly in the countryside in reduced circumstances.
Most Londoners had generally been supportive of Parliament prior to and during the war but gradually found that the policies of the new regime were not necessarily to their taste. In 1642 London playhouses were closed along with other popular past-times such as bear-baiting and maypole-dancing. Whitehall Palace was largely ransacked after the royal family departed in the early 1640s, with those paintings and treasures the Dissenters found offensive destroyed or thrown in the Thames. Various ancient London landmarks such as Paul’s Cross at St.Paul’s Cathedral and Charing Cross were demolished during the Commonwealth period. Many found it strange that churches were ordered to stay closed on Christmas Day from 1652 but shops allowed to open.