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.
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