Friday, 10 January 2014

A month of civil war! part four

It's part four! We've seen the European background to the conflict, and we've seen both the religious and the political state of the nations of the British isles. But what actually happened during the Civil War in England? What were the Scots - to say nothing of the Irish - up to? Well, let's take a look!

We left Charles last time with his standard raised in Nottingham, on 22 August 1642. What exactly does this mean, though? By raising his banner, he summoned his army to him, which formed a declaration of war. However, he was declaring war on parliament, the elected body of the people of England. This is hugely significant, for it had never really been done before. Previous civil wars within England had been aimed at the king, such as the de Montfort rebellion, or the Wars of the Roses. The English Civil War reflects a breakdown of the political system, but from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up. 

However, it would be wrong to think that 1642 marked a watershed moment, where the people of the country fell into either the King's or Parliament's camp. The vast majority of the country greatly desired to stay neutral. Wars were costly, and nobody really wanted to go fighting each other, except perhaps the King himself. But war was now inevitable. The king's forces had assembled, parliament's troops followed them to 'rescue' the king, as mentioned last time - that would not be effected without military action, of course. 

The road to war: Edgehill
What is perhaps most surprising about the Civil War is that there were only ever three big set-piece pitched battles throughout the entire conflict, beginning with Edgehill on 23 October 1642. Parliament had trooped through the East Midlands, ending in the Cotswolds, strategically placing themselves between the King's base of Oxford and London. Charles perceived his greatest support to lie in the Welsh borderlands, so moved from Nottingham to Shrewsbury, before deciding to march to London. Pausing at Wellington, Charles made the famous declaration to uphold Protestantism, to uphold the law, and to uphold the liberty of parliament. 

The parliamentary army, led by the Earl of Essex, led his army to meet the royalists, and the two forces met at Edgehill in Worcestershire on 23 October. While the armies were assembled in the morning, nothing actually happened until the early afternoon, when the sight of Charles personally encouraging his troops apparently goaded the parliamentarian army into opening fire. The royalist cavalry, led by Prince Rupert and Lord Byron, charged on their guns and caused a whole troop of parliamentary cavalry to retreat from the field. Seeing so much of their cavalry disappear, many of the infantry also fled. However, when the majority of the royalist cavalry didn't return from their initial rout, choosing instead to loot the baggage train, the remaining parliamentarian cavalry were able to ride down the royalist infantry. The centre was in such disarray as a result, the king's standard was captured. Luckily, the royalist cavalry then returned, re-capturing the standard on the way. The light failed, and the battle soon ended as the armies retreated to their respective camps. 

The following day, neither side was too keen to resume, and by that evening Essex was leading the parliamentary force to Warwick Castle, which allowed Charles to resume his march to London. However, a roundabout route that took him via Oxford and Reading, while Essex went directly from Warwick to London, prevented Charles from entering London, and so he retreated to Oxford, which by now he established as the royalist capital. 

Just the beginning...
The armies of the king and of parliament were reasonably well-matched, which really proved to be the cause for the war going on as long as it did. In these early days of the conflict, there was no clear way to say who would prevail. At Edgehill, it has been postulated that Charles should have won, but his undisciplined cavalry, who were too concerned with looting than with prosecuting the war, allowed the parliamentary army to regroup, whereas they could have capitalized on their rout and smashed Essex' forces. Well, that's all a maybe now.

Nobody won Edgehill. The civil war in England continued on, and I'll be looking at more of the conflict soon!