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About this book

This volume in the 'Problems in Focus' series provides a concise summary of arguments about the causes of the English Civil War, and of the present state of historical research in this field.

The nine contributors, experts in the subject they write on, cover such issues as: whether there was any economic clash between the two sides in the Civil War; whether they represented two conflicting cultures; whether the issues involved were European or purely English; whether there is any connection between Puritanism and revolution; and what was involved in the fear of Popery. In many areas this integrated collection of original studies breaks new ground, and brings the student up to date with current research, much of it published here for the first time. It concentrates on central themes of debate for which clarification is most useful to students. Though primarily intended for historians, its treatment of social and cultural factors makes it useful to interdisciplinary studies and to students of literature and society in the seventeenth century.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
Before attempting explanations, it is worth knowing what we are attempting to explain. Uncertainty on this point has accounted for much of the confusion which has pervaded accounts of the origins of the Civil War. In the first place, we cannot fully understand why the Civil War broke out until we understand better how it broke out. We can describe with some precision the discontents created by Charles I’s government, and we can describe the measures wanted by most M.P.s to remedy these discontents. But between the thought and the action, between the discontent and the resort to arms, there is a gulf. By what political processes the reforming intentions with which Long Parliament M.P.s came to Westminster were translated into a desire to fight, we do not yet know. It is clear from a wealth of contemporary newsletters that in the autumn of 1640, when the Long Parliament met, contemporaries did not expect the crisis to come to war: they expected some sort of settlement to be patched up. For most observers, the realisation that war was a practical possibility dates from some time between November 1641, when they heard the news of the Irish rebellion, and January 1642, when the attempt on the Five Members was followed by the King’s departure from London.
Conrad Russell

Section One

Frontmatter

1. The Government: Its Role and Its Aims

Abstract
By the summer of 1641 Charles I had lost the first ‘Civil War’ without firing a shot. In the first few months of the Long Parliament, the men, measures and administrative machinery of royal government, as Charles understood it, had been destroyed with no more than token royal resistance. The parliamentary triumph left problems which plagued successive regimes during the next twenty years, and were left unsolved at the Restoration; but within its negative limits it was complete. This ‘Civil War’ was bloodless because the king had no party; the Civil War as we know it was made possible by the growth of royalist support and the collapse of parliamentary unity. This realignment gave the King a chance to attempt an independent policy again. Why it occurred and how deep-rooted were the reasons for it are disputed, but this debate is peripheral to the purpose of this chapter.
Michael Hawkins

2. County Government in Caroline England 1625–1640

Abstract
The powers of central government in seventeenth-century England were hollow without the active cooperation of the army of local authorities upon whom enforcement depended. Professor G. E. Aylmer has put this relationship as clearly as any scholar writing of the period:
In the localities the will of the central government depended for its execution on the voluntary cooperation of a hierarchy of part-time unpaid officials: Lord and Deputy Lieutenants, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, High and Petty Constables, Overseers of the Poor, and Churchwardens. Without their co-operation the central government was helpless: witness the failure in 1639–40 to collect Ship Money or to raise an efficient army against the Scots.1
L. M. Hill

3. Parliament and the King’s Finances

Abstract
The power of Parliament, and especially of the Commons has always depended in the last resort on control of taxation’.1 Professor Roskell’s judgement is not invalidated by the fact that Parliaments had always been concerned with many other issues, of which the most explosive were a recurring desire to influence the King’s choice of ministers, and an almost invariable desire to attack the clergy. Many members agreed with the opinion of Sir Robert Phelips in 1628 that ‘I never think that Parliament truly happy, that intends nothing but money’.2 Yet however much members’ sense of their dignity might make them want to feel that their advice was wanted as well as their cash, money remained the chief bargaining weapon with which they could induce the King to listen to their advice.
Conrad Russell

Section Two

Frontmatter

4. Puritanism, Arminianism and Counter-Revolution

Abstract
Historians of the English Civil War all agree that Puritanism had a role to play in its origins. Beyond this however agreement ceases. For some, particularly the Marxists, Puritanism was the ideology of the newly emergent middle classes or bourgeosie, as they are sometimes called. Puritan ideas, it is argued, complemented and encouraged the capitalist activities of ‘progressive’ gentry, merchants and artisans alike. On the assumption, again made by those most under the influence of Marxism, that the English Civil War was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ the Puritans are naturally to be found fighting against King Charles and his old-world followers. An alternative and widely held interpretation sees Puritanism as a religious fifth column within the Church of England, and one whose numbers dramatically increased during the first decades of the seventeenth century; by the early 1640s, with the collapse of the central government and its repressive system of church courts, the Puritans were thus able to take over at least in the religious sphere. These two schools of thought, the Marxist and the fifth-columnist, are best represented by the writings respectively of Dr. Christopher Hill and Professor William Haller.
Nicholas Tyacke

5. Fear of Popery

Abstract
Among London newspapers and pamphlets published after 1642 no explanation of the Civil War was more common than the assumption that Catholics and Catholicism were in some way to be found at the heart of it. Taking their cue from the House of Commons, which reiterated at every crisis that it was acting ‘to maintain and defend…the true reformed Protestant religion…against all Popery and popish innovations’,1 almost every despatch reporting the progress of the armies described Charles’s forces as ‘papistical’ or ‘jesuitised’ or ‘Romish’. The writers recorded incessantly the crucifixes found on royalist dead, the ‘mass-books’ found in the enemy baggage, and the supposed frequency of Mass in the King’s garrisons. From every town near the Irish Sea enormous and largely mythical reinforcements of savage Irish Catholics were reported, hurrying to join the King. The Venetian ambassador dryly calculated that by the end of 1643 alone, 60,000 men had been added to Charles’s army in this way — sufficient to treble or quadruple his actual strength. The number of English papists in London grew with a speed no less phenomenal: in the summer of 1643 Speciall Passages assured its readers that ‘it is conceived that there were not so many of them when they ruled the Kingdom’. Other papers carried reports of royalists charging into battle with cries of ‘In with Queen Mary’ and waving flags bearing ‘the inscription of the Popes Motto’, doubtless buoyed up with the news that Prince Rupert was about to be replaced by the legendary Piccolomini as commander of the King’s forces.2
Robin Clifton

6. Two Cultures? Court and Country under Charles I

Abstract
And never Rebel was to Arts a friend’, John Dryden pronounced with great finality in Absalom and Achitophel in 1679. Faced with the threat of Monmouth’s reckless yielding to the temptation of Shaftesbury’s eloquent, Satanic prompting, he could not refrain from recalling the great upheaval of English society in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Great Rebellion, for Tories of his generation, was a reminder of the madness that insurrection and innovation, challenging established values, might yet at any moment conjure up. They cherished the memory of a divided, deluded society as a cautionary tale apt for their own crises.
P. W. Thomas

Section Three

Frontmatter

7. Economic Issues and Ideologies

Abstract
Civil war is rarely recommended as a recipe for economic growth, though Rousseau once argued this case in a spirited footnote to the Social Contract. Few advocates of unfettered competition take their logic so far. Certainly this viewpoint was not canvassed in England in the years before the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. The number of people who actively desired the war was small. Many of the participants probably shared instead the puzzlement and distress expressed by Sir Thomas Knyvett at the prospect of armed conflict: he thought it was ‘a lamentable condition, to consume the wealth and treasure of such a kingdom, perhaps the blood too, upon a few nice willful quibbles’.1 Neverthless Civil War did break out. This then raises the question of whether there were economic issues at stake among these ‘quibbles’ which proved so intractable. Was the war fought over issues of economic policy? Did the conflict also represent a clash of economic ideologies, royal paternalism against the laissez-faire doctrines of the Parliamentarians? This essay seeks to review the debate on these questions.
Penelope Corfield

8. Politics and Political Thought 1640–1642

Abstract
If politics is the art of the possible, then political thought made politics a difficult activity in the years before the civil war. The aspirations of the political nation were not hopelessly utopian. The men of 1640 wanted a solvent king and frequent, financially responsible parliaments. They wanted an adequately financed church, reformed to suit the spiritual and social needs of the laity. They wanted quiet tenants and peaceful towns, and knew they would get neither if the common people were aggrieved. Taken in themselves, these aims were quite unexceptionable.
M. J. Mendle

9. England and Europe: A Common Malady?

Abstract
When continental statesmen looked across the Channel to the England of Charles I their reactions tended to be compounded of envy, exasperation and a certain general unease. As the Thirty Years’ War moved towards its climax in the open confrontation of France and Spain, both Richelieu and Olivares redoubled their efforts to draw the English into their network of alliances or, failing this, to make sure that they gave no help or comfort to the enemy camp. Late in 1635 when Charles I hinted at the possibility of a league with the House of Austria in return for the restoration of the Palatinate to the young Prince Palatine, his proposals were treated as a matter of the highest consequence by Philip IV’s Council of State in Madrid. The Count-Duke of Olivares, while foreseeing difficulties, had no hestitation in affirming England’s power to be such that ‘if it can be completely won to our side, there would be no counterweight in Europe to prevent Your Majesty and the Emperor from doing whatever they like.’1
J. H. Elliott
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