A challenge to the King's divine right

PUBLISHED: 09:53 23 November 2006 | UPDATED: 13:36 04 May 2010

THE reason for the outbreak of the English Civil War is hotly discussed and disputed in historical research and publications. As historians, we consider the long and short-term causes of the war, the role of King, Parliament, religion, fiscal policies an

THE reason for the outbreak of the English Civil War is hotly discussed and disputed in historical research and publications.

As historians, we consider the long and short-term causes of the war, the role of King, Parliament, religion, fiscal policies and other influences that played a hand in this significant event in history.

The fact is, however, that in August 1642, Charles I raised an army against Parliament. This seems incredulous - bearing in mind he had inherited the throne with none of the typical succession issues of the period and already had three sons to succeed him.

Throughout the years preceding the outbreak of war, local politics were focused on resisting drainage and enclosures and, whilst national religious policies had filtered down to the local parishes, affairs of state had no real immediate impact in The Isle of Ely.

From the beginning of his reign, Charles had been pursuing his affairs with what many would consider conceited arrogance.

At the heart of this was the King's total belief in the divine right of kings.

He believed that he was chosen by God to rule and as such, was unassailable. Shutting Parliament for 11 years and using the Court of Star Chamber to raise money instead, highlighted ethical issues about the very role of monarchy itself.

The situation came to head when Charles ordered the Scots to use a new prayer book in their churches. The response of the Scots was to invade England in 1639.

Charles was so short of money to pay for this new war he had no alternative but to call Parliament. The MPs, angered and exasperated by the King and his policies during the Personal Rule, ordered that in return for the money, Charles' top advisor, the Earl of Strafford, nicknamed 'Black Tom Tyrant', should be executed.

After a trial, Strafford was executed on 1641.

Parliament also ordered Charles to get rid of the Star Chamber. Desperate for money, Charles had little choice; the balance of power had changed hands. The radicalised MPs were not going to back down and Charles, believing in his divine right to rule, was as equally intransigent. By late 1641, relations between the King and Parliament had reached a stalemate.

On December 1, 1641, John Pym and John Hampden, leaders of the Puritan elements in Parliament, managed to pass the Grand Remonstration, a list of grievances against Charles. The King responded on January 3 1642, by entering the House of Commons with an armed force to arrest five of the leading MPs. These men had been forewarned and had left London and to this day, the monarch is not allowed to enter the Commons chamber because of this action.

Over the next few months, both sides prepared for war.

Charles established a base at York in March 1642 and Parliamentarians, who had no standing army to call, raised individual armies in the area in which they served as MPs. This would eventually become the New Model Army with which Oliver Cromwell's name is firmly associated.

On August 22, 1642, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham declaring Parliament to be traitors.

The civil war split all levels of society. and some generalisations about the support for each side can be made.

On Charles's side were the aristocracy, the peasants, the Anglican Church, Catholics and the north and the west.

On the side of Parliament were the new commercial classes, the navy, the puritans; the south, the midlands and London.

Here in the east, armies were raised from Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire and were known as the Eastern Association. Oliver Cromwell suddenly found himself taking on military duties alongside his political activities and as I will reveal next week had a significant part in securing the region for Parliament.

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