causes of the civil war 1642 essay

Causes of the English Civil Wars

Mark Cartwright

The English Civil Wars (1642-1651) were caused by a monumental clash of ideas between King Charles I of England (r. 1625-1649) and his parliament. Arguments over the powers of the monarchy, finances, questions of religious practices and toleration, and the clash of leaders with personalities, who passionately believed in their own cause but had little empathy towards any other view, all contributed to the decade-long conflict which saw over 600 battles and sieges, thousands of deaths, the execution of Charles, abolition of the monarchy, and the proclamation of England as a republic.

Pre-Civil War British Crown Jewels

The Three Civil Wars

The conflict between the Royalists ('Cavaliers') and Parliamentarians ('Roundheads') which rocked Britain is usually divided into three distinct parts:

  • The First English Civil War (1642-1646)
  • The Second English Civil War (Feb-Aug 1648)
  • The Third English Civil War or Anglo-Scottish War (1650-1651)

The causes of all three conflicts, sometimes collectively known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland , and Ireland ), were much the same except that following Charles I's execution in 1649, the figurehead for the Royalists during the Third Civil War became his son Charles II of Scotland.

Historians do not agree on the precise causes of the Civil Wars, and so the following is a summary of the various viewpoints with no particular weight given to one cause over another.

A Multitude of Causes

The principal causes of the English Civil Wars may be summarised as:

  • Charles I's unshakeable belief in the divine right of kings to rule
  • Parliament's desire to curb the powers of the king
  • Charles I's need for money to fund his court and wars
  • Religious differences between the monarch, Parliament, Scottish Covenanters, and Irish Catholics
  • The personalities of key leaders on both sides, which did not allow for compromise
  • A rise in the number and economic power of the new gentry who now sought political change
  • A belief that the king was a wicked warmonger and had to be removed

James I of England by Mytens

The Divine Right of Kings

Charles was very much like his father James I of England (r. 1603-1625) in that he had an unshakeable belief in his divine right to rule, given to him, he thought, by God , and so no man, be it politician or soldier, should ever question his reign. The English king once stated: "Parliaments are altogether in my power…As I find the fruits of them good or evil, they are to continue or not to be" (McDowall, 88). This belief was never shaken throughout the wars, as seen in 1649 when he refused to recognise the authority of those who had put him on trial for treason:

I would know by what power I am called hither…I would know by what authority, I mean lawful…Remember, I am your king, your lawful king…a king cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth. (Ralph Lewis, 160)

Charles' personality had much to do with the crisis. A little shy and lacking confidence after a childhood away from the limelight when his elder brother was groomed for the crown, Charles was thrust into the glare of politics when Henry, Prince of Wales died of fever aged 18. Never quite trusting those around him, inflexible, repeatedly unwilling to make concessions, and not particularly receptive to criticism, Charles was perhaps led into making certain decisions that he himself did not whole-heartedly believe in or which were, at best, naive in their ignorance of opposing and more modern views. The king is also accused of being unaware of the different social, economic, and religious identities within his own kingdoms, particularly regarding Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, but also in parts of England where there were differences between regions and between rural and urban communities. In fairness, similar criticisms could be made of his opponents with such bullish MPs as John Pym (1583-1643) and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who were utterly convinced God was on their side and not with the king.

There is also the argument that Charles inherited a difficult situation, his father being the first Stuart monarch after the Tudors. The kingdom was a united one in name only. There had been turbulent religious reforms going back to Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547), and the fallout of these was still being felt. Tensions between monarch and Parliament were not new either, and the antiquated system of state finances did not help smooth the relationship. Granted that the situation was not an easy one, some historians would accuse Charles of making it much worse, turning only potential problems into very real ones (Gaunt, 18).

Charles I on Horseback by Anthony Van Dyck

The position of the king as an absolute monarch in Charles' own mind should have been seriously challenged by such events as the 1628 Petition of Right when Parliament demanded the king stop trying to raise money outside of that institution. Other demands included an end to both imprisonment without trial and the use of martial law against civilians. Desperately in need of money for his war with France, the king was obliged to agree to the demands but it in no way altered his opinion of his status as a monarch who had no need to consult anyone on how to govern his kingdom.

Disputes Over Finances

The monarchy traditionally required Parliament to meet and pass favour on royal requests for money, which typically entailed MPs deciding budgets and raising taxes. Charles grew tired of Parliament's obstinacy and insistence that money be accounted for and spending curbed. The king repeatedly called and dismissed parliaments but eventually grew tired of this situation and decided to rule alone. Parliament was not called between 1629 and 1640, a period often called the 'Personal Rule' of the king. This strategy worked well enough until the king desperately needed funds in 1639 to pay for his campaigns against a Scottish army, which had occupied the north of England, and a serious rebellion in Ireland, both fuelled by religious differences and the king's high-handed policies.

The king's efforts to raise money during his 'Personal Rule' had met with only limited success. He borrowed from bankers, extracted new customs duties, imposed forced loans on the wealthy, sold monopolies, and widened the extraction and use of Ship Money (originally imposed on coastal communities only to help fund the navy). He also imposed fines based on archaic forest laws and increased fines imposed by courts. Many of these measures were deeply unpopular with the merchant classes and local gentry, who were more numerous than ever before. Such men were keen to see a political role to match their importance to the economy , and they were unwilling to fund the whims of a monarch who caused what they saw as unnecessary wars and who supported a declining and outdated feudal aristocracy. It did not help that Charles spent grandly on new palaces and art collections. Parliament, knowing the king had nowhere else to go for more cash, could now force Charles into political reforms and concessions.

Attempted Arrest of Five MPs by Charles I

Charles called what became known as the Short Parliament in the spring of 1640 to help raise an army, but this failed after three frustrating weeks of discussion. As a result, the king could only muster a weak militia force against the Scots in the so-called Bishops' Wars (1639-1640). These wars ended in Charles making concessions to Scotland in the Treaty of Ripon in October 1640. Scotland was permitted its religious freedom, and the leaders on the battlefield were promised a handsome sum in cash to stand down. The king then had the practical problem of where exactly to get this money from without Parliament.

Without much choice in the matter, another Parliament was called in November 1640, and so began a period known as the 'Crisis of the Monarchy'. MPs seized their opportunity with the Long Parliament, as it became known, to guarantee their future survival. Money would be raised to pay off the Scots, but only on the condition that laws were passed which meant a parliament must be called at least once every three years, that it could not be dissolved by the monarch's wishes alone, royal ministers now had to be approved by Parliament, and Ship Money was made illegal. The king agreed but then blithely ignored his promises.

One of the decisions of Parliament which had particularly struck Charles and soured relations more than ever was the trial for treason and execution of his closest advisor Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford (1593-1641) in May 1641. Stafford had been accused of preparing to bring an Irish army into England to aid the king, for which there was not much evidence. More significant, perhaps, was Parliament's fear of what exactly the gifted and utterly ruthless Stafford planned in the future regarding themselves. As far as Charles was concerned, Parliament had drawn first blood.

In October 1641 the king needed money for yet another army when a rebellion broke out against English rule (some would say tyranny) in Ireland, fuelled by grievances over massive English land confiscations and the exclusive employment of English and Scottish immigrants on many large estates. Ulster was a particularly bloody battleground while Charles and the English Parliament wrangled over the formation of an army necessary to quell the rebellion. Parliament was particularly anxious that the king use such a force in Ireland and not against themselves. These fears were perhaps not unfounded, and the king's attempted arrest of five MPs in January 1642 hardly instilled confidence. The group, who included John Pym, had written the Grand Remonstrance listing the king's abuses of power and which was passed by Parliament in November 1641. The Remonstrance was then made public. In retaliation for the arrests, the Parliamentarians locked the gates of London, preventing Charles from entering his own capital. However, the king was encouraged by the distinct lack of unity in Parliament as the Remonstrance had only been accepted by 159 votes to 148. Some MPs believed that the king's powers were being unjustly infringed upon (for example, that he could not choose his own counsellors or military leaders), while the more radical members were keen to curb those powers even further. A military solution to the deadlock might now be Charles' best tactic. The king relocated from Hampton Court to York and then to Nottingham in August 1642, where a royal army was formed.

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Religious Differences

As we have seen, the multiple threads of discord that caused the English Civil Wars were intertwined in a complex political, religious, and military knot. Charles frequently created new enemies because of his religious policies. In 1627, Charles began to promote the Arminians, a branch of the Anglican Church that emphasised ritual, sacraments, and the clergy, and not the style of preaching seen in other branches closer to Calvinism. Some saw this move as a dangerous shift back towards Catholicism, a sign of a secret Papist conspiracy to reverse the English Reformation , an idea which was widely circulated in the 17th century by word of mouth and the printing press, adding fictional fuel to a bonfire of conspiracy theories that went all the way back to the one real conspiracy: the Gunpowder Plot to blow up King and Parliament in 1605.

Religions in Europe in the 16th Century

Charles was not, in fact, a Catholic but a High Anglican, that is he had certain sympathies with such aspects of the Christian Church as ceremony, the elevation of the clergy and bishops, and what he perceived as the beauty and order provided by certain decorations within the church building itself. For many, though, it was difficult to distinguish this from 'Popish' practices and Roman Catholic doctrine. There were, too, more concrete concerns over the Arminians' seeming support of an absolute monarchy.

In 1633, the king appointed William Laud (1573-1645), an Arminian, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England. Laud was detested by the Puritans , who remained a rich and powerful section of English society and who had a strong presence in Parliament. Many MPs and army officers were Independents or Congregationalists, that is they wanted less power in the hands of bishops and more inclusion in the Church. Many wanted greater freedom for 'independent' congregations that assembled according to the individual believers' consciences and their own interpretation of the Bible . Laud outraged the Puritans when he reintroduced what were widely seen as Catholic practices into the more austere Anglican Church. These included decorating churches, railing off the altar or communion table to restrict access only for the clergy, and encouraging music . Laud banned preaching on any day other than a Sunday and replaced this with the Catechism. He also banned the weekday lectures that Puritans so valued. From Laud's and the king's perspective, these religious changes were slight and intended to emphasise ritual and order, but for the Puritans, this was a direct attack on the achievements of the Reformation . With no real means to protest or obstruct these measures, and with punishments and fines for non-compliance, many Puritans decided to emigrate and find greater religious freedom in North America or the Netherlands.

Charles also upset the Scottish Kirk and its Presbyterian church leaders by trying to install bishops there. The introduction of a new prayer book in 1637 was made without even consulting the Kirk. The Presbyterians (moderate Puritans who believed in a church hierarchy) much preferred to stick to their system where each congregation was led by a minister who in turn reported to the Synod, an elected supervisory council of elders. Further, the Scots believed Charles had no right to impose anything on the Scottish Church, a point many were willing to fight for.

Eikon Basilike Frontispiece

Far from being a problem of ecclesiastical debate, these issues boiled over onto the battlefield in the Bishops' Wars mentioned above. The Scottish Presbyterian Church was determined to defend its independence and so became an active ally of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil Wars before switching sides in support of the Royalists when Parliament was deemed the greater threat. Those Scots who sought an alliance with England were known as the Covenanters from the agreement known as the National Covenant of February 1638. Those who signed the agreement swore to defend the Presbyterian Church, even by military means if necessary.

In England, meanwhile, as we have seen, the situation between King and Parliament had worsened considerably. By 1642, both sides were gathering arms, fortifying the cities they controlled, and preparing for war. The first major battle was at Edgehill in October. The result was indecisive, as it would be in many of the battles that followed. While often seen as a war that did not involve a great number of civilians, it is estimated that at least one in four adult male Britons fought at some point, one in ten people in urban areas lost their homes, and the vast majority of people had to bear heavy taxes, even if they themselves avoided the actual fighting. As the Civil War progressed so new motives arrived for supporters on both sides. Charles' policy in Ireland further alienated the king from many of his English subjects. The king had struck a deal with Irish rebels so that Irish Catholic troops might bolster his army. This never came about in reality as most of the troops from Ireland were Charles' English soldiers now released from policing duties there, and even these were few in number. The episode did raise the serious question as to Charles' loyalty to the Anglican Church.

The Execution of Charles I

More and more people came to see the king as a despot and wilful warmonger who no longer had his people's interests foremost in his mind. The capture of the king's personal writing cabinet at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 revealed that the king had no intention of ever compromising with Parliament. Already for many, there could be no peaceful resolution to the conflict. This was particularly so after the Second Civil War and the invasion of a Scottish army into England. The king, even in self-imposed exile on the Isle of Wight, came to be viewed as a 'man of blood', a biblical term for a ruler who waged war against his own people. In his treaty with the Scots known as the Engagement of December 1647, he had even promised to favour the Presbyterian Church in England, disband the English army and rely only on a Scottish one, and suppress radical religious groups. This was the final straw.

With more money and a more professional army, the Parliamentarians were the victors again at the Battle of Preston in 1648 . Charles I was tried and found guilty of treason to his own people and government. The king was executed on 30 January 1649. The monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished, and the Anglican Church was reformed. Scotland remained loyal to the crown, and Charles' eldest son Charles was, by right of birth, its king. However, a Scottish army was again defeated by an English one in the so-called Third English Civil War, and the would-be Charles II was obliged to flee to France.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) ruled the 'Commonwealth' republic as Lord Protector. When Cromwell died, his chosen successor, his son Richard Cromwell, was not supported for long, and so, to avert another civil war, there was the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Charles returned from France to become Charles II of England (r. 1660-1685), but he now had to rule alongside a much more powerful Parliament.

Subscribe to topic Bibliography Related Content Books Cite This Work License


  • Anderson, Angela & Scarboro, Dale. Stuart Britain. Hodder Education, 2015.
  • Bennett, Martyn. The English Civil War 1640-1649 . Routledge, 2014.
  • Gaunt, Peter. The English Civil Wars. Osprey Publishing, 2003.
  • Hunt, Tristram. The English Civil War at First Hand. Penguin UK, 2011.
  • Miller, John. Early Modern Britain, 1450–1750 . Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Morrill, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor & Stuart Britain. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Wanklyn, Malcolm. Decisive Battles of the English Civil War. Pen and Sword Military, 2007.

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Personal Rule and the seeds of rebellion (1629–40)

The bishops’ wars and the return of parliament (1640–42).

  • The first English Civil War (1642–46)
  • Conflicts in Scotland and Ireland
  • Second and third English Civil Wars (1648–51)
  • Cost and legacy

Battle of Naseby

  • What is Charles I known for?
  • What was Charles I’s early life like?
  • How did Charles I become king of Great Britain and Ireland?
  • What was the relationship between Charles I and Parliament like?
  • Why was Charles I executed?

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English Civil Wars

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Battle of Naseby

When did the English Civil Wars occur?

The English Civil Wars occurred from 1642 through 1651. The fighting during this period is traditionally broken into three wars: the first happened from 1642 to 1646, the second in 1648, and the third from 1650 to 1651.

What was the first major battle fought in the English Civil Wars?

The first major battle of the English Civil Wars fought on English soil was the Battle of Edgehill , which occurred in October 1642. Forces loyal to the English Parliament, commanded by Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex , delayed Charles I’s march on London.

How many people died during the English Civil Wars?

An estimated 200,000 people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of the English Civil Wars, making it arguably the bloodiest conflict in the history of the British Isles.

When did the English Civil Wars come to an end?

The English Civil Wars ended on September 3, 1651, with Oliver Cromwell ’s victory at Worcester and the subsequent flight of Charles II to France.

causes of the civil war 1642 essay

English Civil Wars , (1642–51), fighting that took place in the British Isles between supporters of the monarchy of Charles I (and his son and successor , Charles II ) and opposing groups in each of Charles’s kingdoms, including Parliamentarians in England , Covenanters in Scotland , and Confederates in Ireland . The English Civil Wars are traditionally considered to have begun in England in August 1642, when Charles I raised an army against the wishes of Parliament , ostensibly to deal with a rebellion in Ireland. But the period of conflict actually began earlier in Scotland, with the Bishops’ Wars of 1639–40, and in Ireland, with the Ulster rebellion of 1641. Throughout the 1640s, war between king and Parliament ravaged England, but it also struck all of the kingdoms held by the house of Stuart —and, in addition to war between the various British and Irish dominions, there was civil war within each of the Stuart states. For this reason the English Civil Wars might more properly be called the British Civil Wars or the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The wars finally ended in 1651 with the flight of Charles II to France and, with him, the hopes of the British monarchy.

causes of the civil war 1642 essay

Compared with the chaos unleashed by the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) on the European continent, the British Isles under Charles I enjoyed relative peace and economic prosperity during the 1630s. However, by the later 1630s, Charles’s regime had become unpopular across a broad front throughout his kingdoms. During the period of his so-called Personal Rule (1629–40), known by his enemies as the “Eleven-Year Tyranny” because he had dissolved Parliament and ruled by decree, Charles had resorted to dubious fiscal expedients, most notably “ ship money ,” an annual levy for the reform of the navy that in 1635 was extended from English ports to inland towns. This inclusion of inland towns was construed as a new tax without parliamentary authorization. When combined with ecclesiastical reforms undertaken by Charles’s close adviser William Laud , the archbishop of Canterbury , and with the conspicuous role assumed in these reforms by Henrietta Maria , Charles’s Catholic queen, and her courtiers, many in England became alarmed. Nevertheless, despite grumblings, there is little doubt that had Charles managed to rule his other dominions as he controlled England, his peaceful reign might have been extended indefinitely. Scotland and Ireland proved his undoing.

In 1633 Thomas Wentworth became lord deputy of Ireland and set out to govern that country without regard for any interest but that of the crown. His thorough policies aimed to make Ireland financially self-sufficient; to enforce religious conformity with the Church of England as defined by Laud, Wentworth’s close friend and ally; to “civilize” the Irish; and to extend royal control throughout Ireland by establishing British plantations and challenging Irish titles to land. Wentworth’s actions alienated both the Protestant and the Catholic ruling elites in Ireland. In much the same way, Charles’s willingness to tamper with Scottish land titles unnerved landowners there. However, it was Charles’s attempt in 1637 to introduce a modified version of the English Book of Common Prayer that provoked a wave of riots in Scotland, beginning at the Church of St. Giles in Edinburgh . A National Covenant calling for immediate withdrawal of the prayer book was speedily drawn up on February 28, 1638. Despite its moderate tone and conservative format, the National Covenant was a radical manifesto against the Personal Rule of Charles I that justified a revolt against the interfering sovereign .

The turn of events in Scotland horrified Charles, who determined to bring the rebellious Scots to heel. However, the Covenanters , as the Scottish rebels became known, quickly overwhelmed the poorly trained English army, forcing the king to sign a peace treaty at Berwick (June 18, 1639). Though the Covenanters had won the first Bishops’ War , Charles refused to concede victory and called an English parliament, seeing it as the only way to raise money quickly. Parliament assembled in April 1640, but it lasted only three weeks (and hence became known as the Short Parliament ). The House of Commons was willing to vote the huge sums that the king needed to finance his war against the Scots, but not until their grievances—some dating back more than a decade—had been redressed. Furious, Charles precipitately dissolved the Short Parliament. As a result, it was an untrained, ill-armed, and poorly paid force that trailed north to fight the Scots in the second Bishops’ War. On August 20, 1640, the Covenanters invaded England for the second time, and in a spectacular military campaign they took Newcastle following the Battle of Newburn (August 28). Demoralized and humiliated, the king had no alternative but to negotiate and, at the insistence of the Scots, to recall parliament.

Louis IX of France (St. Louis), stained glass window of Louis IX during the Crusades. (Unknown location.)

A new parliament (the Long Parliament ), which no one dreamed would sit for the next 20 years, assembled at Westminster on November 3, 1640, and immediately called for the impeachment of Wentworth, who by now was the earl of Strafford. The lengthy trial at Westminster, ending with Strafford’s execution on May 12, 1641, was orchestrated by Protestants and Catholics from Ireland, by Scottish Covenanters, and by the king’s English opponents, especially the leader of Commons, John Pym —effectively highlighting the importance of the connections between all the Stuart kingdoms at this critical junction.

To some extent, the removal of Strafford’s draconian hand facilitated the outbreak in October 1641 of the Ulster uprising in Ireland. This rebellion derived, on the one hand, from long-term social, religious, and economic causes (namely tenurial insecurity, economic instability, indebtedness, and a desire to have the Roman Catholic Church restored to its pre- Reformation position) and, on the other hand, from short-term political factors that triggered the outbreak of violence. Inevitably, bloodshed and unnecessary cruelty accompanied the insurrection, which quickly engulfed the island and took the form of a popular rising, pitting Catholic natives against Protestant newcomers. The extent of the “massacre” of Protestants was exaggerated, especially in England where the wildest rumours were readily believed. Perhaps 4,000 settlers lost their lives—a tragedy to be sure, but a far cry from the figure of 154,000 the Irish government suggested had been butchered. Much more common was the plundering and pillaging of Protestant property and the theft of livestock. These human and material losses were replicated on the Catholic side as the Protestants retaliated.

The Irish insurrection immediately precipitated a political crisis in England, as Charles and his Westminster Parliament argued over which of them should control the army to be raised to quell the Irish insurgents. Had Charles accepted the list of grievances presented to him by Parliament in the Grand Remonstrance of December 1641 and somehow reconciled their differences, the revolt in Ireland almost certainly would have been quashed with relative ease. Instead, Charles mobilized for war on his own, raising his standard at Nottingham in August 1642. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms had begun in earnest. This also marked the onset of the first English Civil War fought between forces loyal to Charles I and those who served Parliament. After a period of phony war late in 1642, the basic shape of the English Civil War was of Royalist advance in 1643 and then steady Parliamentarian attrition and expansion.

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The Origins & Causes of the English Civil War

We English like to think of ourselves as gentlemen and ladies; a nation that knows how to queue, eat properly and converse politely. And yet in 1642 we went to war with ourselves…

Victoria Masson

We English like to think of ourselves as gentlemen and ladies; a nation that knows how to queue, eat properly and converse politely. And yet in 1642 we went to war with ourselves. Pitting brother against brother and father against son, the English civil war is a blot on our history. Indeed, there was barely an English ‘gentleman’ who was not touched by the war.

Yet how did it start? Was it simply a power struggle between king and Parliament? Were the festering wounds left by the Tudor religious roller coaster to blame? Or was it all about the money?

Divine right – the God given right of an anointed monarch to rule unhindered – was established firmly in the reign of James I (1603-25). He asserted his political legitimacy by decreeing that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority; not the will of his people, the aristocracy or any other estate of the realm, including Parliament. Under this definition any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict the powers of the monarch goes against the will of God. The concept of a God given right to rule was not born in this period however; writings as far back as AD 600 infer that the English in their varied Anglo-Saxon states accepted those in power had God’s blessing.

This blessing should create an infallible leader – and there is the rub. Surely if you have been given power to rule by God, you should demonstrate an ability to wield this responsibility with a degree of success? By 1642 Charles I found himself nearly bankrupt, surrounded by blatant corruption and nepotism and desperate to hold onto the thin veil that masked his religious uncertainty. He was by no means an infallible leader, a fact that was glaringly obvious to both Parliament and the people of England.

Parliament had no tangible power at this point in English history. They were a collection of aristocrats who met at the King’s pleasure to offer advice and to help him collect taxes. This alone gave them some influence, as the king needed their seal of approval to legitimately set taxes in motion. In times of financial difficulty that meant the King had to listen to Parliament. Stretched thinly through the lavish lifestyles and expensive wars of the Tudor and Stuart period, the Crown was struggling. Coupled with his desire to extend his high Anglican (read here thinly disguised Catholic) policies and practices to Scotland, Charles I needed the financial support of Parliament. When this support was withheld, Charles saw it as an infringement on his Divine Right and as such, he dismissed Parliament in March 1629. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled England without a Parliament, are referred to as the ‘personal rule’. Ruling without Parliament was not unprecedented but without access to Parliament’s financial pulling power, Charles’s ability to acquire funds was limited.

Parliament in the time of King Charles I

Charles’s personal rule reads like a ‘how to annoy your countrymen for dummies’. His introduction of a permanent Ship Tax was the most offensive policy to many. Ship Tax was an established tax that was paid by counties with a sea border in times of war. It was to be used to strengthen the Navy and so these counties would be protected by the money they paid in tax; in theory, it was a fair tax against which they could not argue.

Charles’s decision to extend a year-round Ship Tax to all counties in England provided around £150,000 to £200,000 annually between 1634 and 1638. The resultant backlash and popular opposition however proved that there was growing support for a check on the power of the King.

This support did not just come from the general tax paying population but also from the Puritanical forces within Protestant England. After Mary I , all subsequent English monarchs have been overtly Protestant. This stabilization of the religious roller coaster calmed the fears of many in Tudor times who believed if a civil war was to be fought in England it would be fought along religious lines.

While outwardly a Protestant, Charles I was married to a staunch Catholic, Henrietta Maria of France. She heard Roman Catholic mass every day in her own private chapel and frequently took her children, the heirs to the English throne, to mass. Furthermore, Charles’ support for his friend Archbishop William Laud’s reforms to the English Church were seen by many as a move backwards to the popery of Catholicism. The re-introduction of stained glass windows and finery within churches was the last straw for many Puritans and Calvinists.

Archbishop William Laud

To prosecute those who opposed his reforms, Laud used the two most powerful courts in the land, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber. The courts became feared for their censorship of opposing religious views and were unpopular among the propertied classes for inflicting degrading punishments on gentlemen. For example, in 1637 William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick were pilloried, whipped, mutilated by cropping and imprisoned indefinitely for publishing anti-episcopal pamphlets.

Charles’s continued support for these types of policies continued to pile on support for those that were looking to put a limit on his power.

By October 1640, Charles’ unpopular religious policies and attempts to extend his power north had resulted in a war with the Scots. This was a disaster for Charles who had neither the money nor the men to fight a war. He rode north to lead the battle himself, suffering a crushing defeat that left Newcastle upon Tyne and Durham occupied by Scottish forces.

Public demands for a Parliament were growing and Charles realised that whatever his next step was to be, it would require a financial backbone. After the conclusion of the humiliating Treaty of Ripon that let the Scots remain in Newcastle and Durham whilst being paid £850 a day for the privilege, Charles summoned Parliament. Being called upon to help King and country instilled a sense of purpose and power into this new Parliament. They now presented an alternative power in the country to the King. The two sides in the English Civil war had been established.

The slide to war becomes more pronounced from this stage onwards. That is not to say it was inevitable, or that the subsequent removal and execution of Charles I was even a notion in the heads of those who opposed him. However, the balance of power had begun to shift. Parliament wasted no time arresting and putting on trial the Kings closest advisers, including Archbishop Laud and Lord Strafford.

In May 1641 Charles conceded an unprecedented act, which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without Parliament’s consent. Thus emboldened, Parliament now abolished Ship Tax and the courts of The Star Chamber and The High Commission.

Over the next year Parliament began to introduce increased emboldened demands, and by June 1642 these were too much for Charles to bear. His bullish response in barging into the House of Commons and attempting to arrest five MPs lost him the last remnants of support among undecided MPs. The sides were crystallized and the battle lines were drawn. Charles I raised his standard on 22nd August 1642 in Nottingham: the Civil War had begun.

Charles I before the battle of Edgehill

So the origins of the English Civil War are complex and intertwined. England had managed to escape the Reformation relatively unscathed, avoiding much of the heavy fighting that raged in Europe as Catholic and Protestant forces battled in The Thirty Year War. However, the scars of the Reformation were still present beneath the surface and Charles did little to avert public fears about his intentions for the religious future of England.

Money had also been an issue from the outset, especially as the royal coffers had been emptied during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. These issues were exacerbated by Charles’s mismanagement of the public coffers and through introducing new and ‘unfair’ taxes he simply added to the already growing anti-Crown sentiment up and down the country.

These two points demonstrate the fact that Charles believed in his Divine Right, a right to rule unchallenged. Through the study of money, religion and power at this time it is clear that one factor is woven through them all and must be noted as a major cause of the English Civil War; that is the attitude and ineptitude of Charles I himself, perhaps the antithesis of an infallible monarch.

Battles of the First English Civil War:

23 October, 1642
19 January, 1643
19 March, 1643
16 May, 1643
18 June, 1643
30 June, 1643
5 July, 1643
13 July, 1643
11 October, 1643
25 January, 1644
29 March, 1644
29 June, 1644
2 July, 1644
14 June, 1645
10 July 1645
24 September, 1645
21 March, 1646

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The causes of the English civil war.

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Melroy Satkunarajah

The causes of the English civil war

In this essay I am going to explain why the civil war broke out in 1642. The English civil war broke out on 22 nd  August 1642. It caused many deaths and divided some families. There were many reasons for this, including religious arguments, financial arguments, the actions of Charles himself, all the causes were linked together, (Parliamentarian and Royalist) some of the events of 1642 and the demands made by parliaments for more power and also I am going to explain the long – term causes and the short – term causes also know as the triggers.

There are many different reasons for the causes of the English civil war but first I will start with the religious disputes over archbishops Laud’s reforms of the church. Reforms were introduced that made churches more decorated (like catholic churches) Charles I collected customs duties without parliaments permission, he married a French catholic who was unpopular with his people. The Bishops' Wars were fought between the Scots and English forces led by . These conflicts paved the way for the uprising of Parliament that began the English civil wars.

Charles I was attempting to enforce Anglican reforms onto the Scottish church. However the Scots were opposed to this, and even wanted to destroy the control that bishops had over the church. To this end, Charles' reforms were rejected by the Scottish Assembly at Glasgow in 1638.

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Charles was furious that the Scots had rejected his proposals, and hastily formed an English force with which to march on Scotland in 1639. He did not have the funds for such a military expedition, nor confidence in his troops, so he was forced to leave Scotland without fighting a battle.

The unrest continued in Scotland, and when Charles discovered that they had been plotting with the French he again decided to mount a military expedition. This time, Charles called Parliament in order to get funds (1640).

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The second cause was the financial quarrels between the king and parliament. When parliament formed, they immediately wanted to discuss grievances against the government, and were generally opposed to any military operation. This angered Charles and he dismissed parliament again, hence the name "Short Parliament" that it is commonly given.

Charles went ahead with his military operation without Parliament's support, and was beaten by the Scots. The Scots, taking advantage of this, went on to seize Northumberland and Durham.

Charles found himself in a desperate position, and was forced to call parliament again in November, 1640. This parliament is known as the "Long Parliament".

The third cause was the demands made by parliament for greater share government. The tension between Charles and Parliament was still great, since none of the issues raised by the Short Parliament had been resolved. This tension was brought to a head on January 4th, 1642 when Charles attempted to arrest five members of parliament. This attempt failed, since they were spirited away before the king's troops arrived.

Charles left London and both he and parliament began to stockpile military resources and recruit troops.

Charles officially began the war by raising his standard at Nottingham in August, 1642. At this stage of the wars, parliament had no wish to kill the king. It was hoped that Charles could be reinstated as ruler, but with a more constructive attitude to parliament. Parliaments were supported by the richer South and East, including London. Parliament also held most of the ports, since the merchants that ran them saw more profit in a parliament-lead country.

Parliament definitely had access to more resources than the king, and could collect taxes. Charles had to depend on donations from his supporters to fund his armies.

The fourth cause was that Charles I ruled without parliament. Charles I dissolved parliament because of all the disputes and ruled without it for 11 years. King did not like the wealth, power or ideas of parliament. He began making the decisions about taxes without parliament.

The fifth cause was that the ship money argument. Without parliament, Charles had to think up new pays of raising money, e.g. ship money which was paid in times of war by people living the coast, now had to pay by all people even though there was no war.

The sixth cause was that the parliament was recalled and demanded reforms. King Charles I wanted money, so he reopened the parliament to get money but they demanded the reforms e.g. never to be shut down again.

These are called the long – term cases.

Some M.P.S demanded more reforms from the king in a new list called ‘the grand remonstrance’ other M.P.S stick up for the king because he has already greed to some reforms.

A rebellion starts in Ireland where Catholics murdered 200,000 Protestants.

The England wondered if Charles supported the Catholics.

Charles I try to arrest five M.P.S while parliament is in session, but they had escaped before hand. This lost the king a lot of respect and showed he wanted to control parliament after all. Parliament and the king argued over who control the Army.   Only six days after trying to arrest the five Members of Parliament, Charles left London to head for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. A  could not be avoided.

By 1642, relations between Parliament and  had become very bad. Charles had to do as Parliament wished as they had the ability to raise the money that Charles needed. However, as a firm believer in the "divine right of kings", such a relationship was unacceptable to Charles.

 These are called the short – term causes.

From the beginning of his reign, King Charles quarrelled with parliament about power.

King Charles dismissed parliament in 1629 and ruled without it for 11 years.

In 1635, King Charles made everyone pay the ship money tax.

The Scots rebelled against the new prayer book which the king and archbishop laud introduced in Scotland.

In 1638, the Scots invaded England.

King Charles asked parliament for money to raise an army.

Parliament made King Charles agree to reforms in 1641.

King Charles and archbishop laud made changes of the Church of England which were unpopular.

The puritans were angry about the king’s Catholic sympathies.

These are shot – term causes and long – term causes, they are linked together between causes and how they lead to civil war.        


I think there were almost as many reasons for people to fight the civil war as there were people fighting. Briefly, however, the main reason for the war was the king Charles I and his various parliaments did not agree about anything – religion, how the country should be run, how England should behave towards other countries and so on. This was made worse by the fact that Charles I, believing that kings got their power from god and so could rule as they chose, made no attempt to keep his parliament happy. He spent eleven years ruling without parliament at all. When the long parliament, called in 1640, tried to make him change his ways and he refused, war broke out. (Some important things may not have set off the war, without the small triggers).        


The causes of the English civil war.

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Causes of The Civil War

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Published: Jan 30, 2024

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Economic factors, political factors, social factors, the role of leadership.

  • McPherson, J. M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press.
  • Goldfield, D. R. (2005). America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. Bloomsbury Press.

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causes of the civil war 1642 essay

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The Causes of the English Civil War

causes of the civil war 1642 essay

Charles I                         Oliver Cromwell

The English Civil War has many causes but the personality of Charles I must be counted as one of the major reasons. Few people could have predicted that the civil war, that started in 1642, would have ended with the public execution of  Charles. His most famous opponent in this war was Oliver Cromwell  – one of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles.

No king had ever been executed in England and the execution of Charles was not greeted with joy. How did the English Civil War break out?

As with many wars, there are long and short term causes.

Long term causes :

The status of the monarchy had started to decline under the reign of James I. He was known as the “wisest fool in Christendom”. James was a firm believer in the “divine right of kings”. This was a belief that God had made someone a king and as God could not be wrong, neither could anyone appointed by him to rule a nation. James expected Parliament to do as he wanted; he did not expect it to argue with any of his decisions.

However, Parliament had one major advantage over James – they had money and he was continually short of it. Parliament and James clashed over custom duties . This was one source of James income but Parliament told him that he could not collect it without their permission. In 1611, James suspended Parliament and it did not meet for another 10 years. James used his friends to run the country and they were rewarded with titles. This caused great offence to those Members of Parliament who believed that they had the right to run the country.

In 1621, James re-called Parliament to discuss the future marriage of his son, Charles, to a Spanish princess. Parliament was outraged. If such a marriage occurred, would the children from it be brought up as Catholics? Spain was still not considered a friendly nation to England and many still remembered 1588 and the Spanish Armada. The marriage never took place but the damaged relationship between king and Parliament was never mended by the time James died in 1625. 

Short term causes :

Charles had a very different personality compared to James. Charles was arrogant, conceited and a strong believer in the divine rights of kings. He had witnessed the damaged relationship between his father and Parliament, and considered that Parliament was entirely at fault. He found it difficult to believe that a king could be wrong. His conceit and arrogance were eventually to lead to his execution.

From 1625 to 1629, Charles argued with parliament over most issues, but money and religion were the most common causes of arguments. 

In 1629, Charles copied his father. He refused to let Parliament meet. Members of Parliament arrived at Westminster to find that the doors had been locked with large chains and padlocks. They were locked out for eleven years – a period they called the Eleven Years Tyranny.

Charles ruled by using the Court of Star Chamber. To raise money for the king, the Court heavily fined those brought before it. Rich men were persuaded to buy titles. If they refused to do so, they were fined the same sum of money it would have cost for a title anyway! 

In 1635 Charles ordered that everyone in the country should pay Ship Money. This was historically a tax paid by coastal towns and villages to pay for the upkeep of the navy. The logic was that coastal areas most benefited from the navy’s protection. Charles decided that everyone in the kingdom benefited from the navy’s protection and that everyone should pay. 

In one sense, Charles was correct, but such was the relationship between him and the powerful men of the kingdom, that this issue caused a huge argument between both sides. One of the more powerful men in the nation was John Hampden. He had been a Member of Parliament. He refused to pay the new tax as Parliament had not agreed to it. At this time Parliament was also not sitting as Charles had locked the MP’s out. Hampden was put on trial and found guilty. However, he had become a hero for standing up to the king. There is no record of any Ship Money being extensively collected in the areas Charles had wanted it extended to.

Charles also clashed with the Scots. He ordered that they should use a new prayer book for their church services. This angered the Scots so much that they invaded England in 1639. As Charles was short of money to fight the Scots, he had to recall Parliament in 1640 as only they had the necessary money needed to fight a war and the required authority to collect extra money.

In return for the money and as a display of their power, Parliament called for the execution of  “Black Tom Tyrant” – the Earl of Strafford, one of the top advisors of Charles. After a trial, Strafford was executed in 1641. Parliament also demanded that Charles get rid of the Court of Star Chamber.

By 1642, relations between Parliament and Charles had become very bad. Charles had to do as Parliament wished as they had the ability to raise the money that Charles needed. However, as a firm believer in the “divine right of kings”, such a relationship was unacceptable to Charles.

In 1642, he went to Parliament with 300 soldiers to arrest his five biggest critics. Someone close to the king had already tipped off Parliament that these men were about to be arrested and they had already fled to the safety of the city of London where they could easily hide from the king. However, Charles had shown his true side. Members of Parliament represented the people. Here was Charles attempting to arrest five Members of Parliament simply because they dared to criticise him. If Charles was prepared to arrest five Members of Parliament, how many others were not safe? Even Charles realised that things had broken down between him and Parliament. Only six days after trying to arrest the five Members of Parliament, Charles left London to head for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. A civil war could not be avoided. 

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causes of the civil war 1642 essay

To what extent can the outbreak of civil war in 1642 be blamed on Charles I?

04 July, 2013 • History

The causes of the English Revolution have long been a subject of historiographical debate. One of the central questions has been that of the existence of a “high road to civil war”; that is, whether the causes of revolution can be traced back to the reigns of James, Elizabeth, or even earlier, or whether the causes were more immediate, surfacing during Charles’ reign. This essay will therefore address the question of the extent to which it was caused by the actions of Charles — which is to say, whether the causes originated after 1625 and, furthermore, whether Charles could reasonably be said to be responsible, or whether the events were out of his control.

The early Stuarts had in common with one another a number of conflicts with Parliament, among them constitutional issues, religion and finance. Not all of these were new problems but a number of factors increased the tendency towards conflict.

The question of constitutional issues can be addressed first, as it exacerbated the others. According to a traditional, “Whig” point of view, the roots of the revolution are traced back to the increasing absolutism introduced to the English monarchy by James and developed further by Charles. In this view, James ‘sowed the seeds of revolution and disaster’ 1 and Charles continued on this path; the early Stuarts were, therefore, both at fault, with Charles inheriting an already-restless kingdom. However, more recently, it has been pointed out that this interpretation was ‘utterly at odds with James’s widely praised performance as king of Scotland’; 2 by the time he inherited the English throne he had successfully managed the various hostile factions of Scotland for sixteen years.

To establish the truth of this claim (that there was a distinct change in the mode of government between Elizabeth and James) we can look at several facts. Firstly, there is the number of Parliamentary sessions held: James’ reign saw nine sessions in 22 years. Elizabeth’s reign, on the other hand, had 13 sessions in forty-four years, 3 sitting for a total of only two and a half years compared to three and a half under James. It has further been argued that when James wrote Basilikon Doron in 1599, arguing for the absolute power of the monarch, he was inspired by, and perhaps envious of, his cousin’s ability to rule her kingdom with so little interference. 4 Thus, the roots of absolutism in England predated both Charles and James; in fact, according to Smith, despite James’ problems ‘his style of kingship generally fostered stability’, 5 but he quotes Reeve’s description of Charles as ‘fundamentally unsuited for kingship’. 6

James’ outspoken views on the role of the monarch in relation to Parliament undoubtedly made contemporaries uncomfortable; he showed particular lack of tact in lecturing Parliament (on several occasions) on the limitations of its rights, sparking fears that ‘we are not like to leave to our successors that freedome we receved from our forefathers’. 7 Nevertheless, he was also an experienced ruler; Smith refers to his ‘shrewd political realism’, citing his abandonment of his plans for a union of the two kingdoms as an example of this. 8 He regularly showed discretion in this manner, seeming well-aware of how his words and actions were perceived; countless examples are given by Smith and others of his diplomatic withdrawals. This can be contrasted strongly with Charles.

Charles inherited his father’s belief in a divine right to rule (indeed, Basilikon Doron , in which those beliefs were set out, had been written specifically by James to teach his sons). However, he did not inherit James’ tact and diplomacy; unlike his father, he was unwilling to bend or negotiate unless forced — a failing which increased the perception of weakness, ’encouraging his subjects to believe that …he would retreat further’. 9 However, even this was not inevitable; his earliest dealings with Parliament, during the last years of his father’s reign, were successful, and it was a short time into his own reign before the problems began to manifest.

It has long been argued that by the early seventeenth century the finances of the crown were wholly inadequate; not simply in their magnitude, but structurally flawed as well. Morton describes them as ‘medieval in character’ and requiring on Elizabeth’s part ’the most extreme parsimony’ 10 to make ends meet. Inflation had driven prices up significantly during the sixteenth century, but Crown revenues, based primarily on rents and fines, had not risen in proportion. 11 Early in James’ reign a major restructuring of Crown finances was proposed, whereby the Crown would give up certain of its revenue sources in return for a guaranteed grant. However, this plan fell through and questions have been raised as to whether it would have been a success — Woolrych argues that it would have required greater frugality than James generally displayed. The inability of King and Parliament to agree on financial reform (according to Morton, due to the lack of economic understanding at the time) led to repeated conflicts over subsidies to the Crown, and to James’ increasing use of other sources of income — for example, the sale of titles and Crown lands.

The financial difficulties for Charles began in his first Parliament, which refused to grant Tonnage and Poundage to the King for life as was traditional, instead granting it for just a year with the intention of revisiting the royal financial arrangements. A clash of personalities ensued, with Charles inclined to see disagreement as a sign of a conspiracy against him. 12 His grievances were not unfounded, as England was currently engaged in a war against France, with the vocal support of Parliament, yet with the King expected to pay for it; Parliament attempted to use this as leverage to have the unpopular Duke of Buckingham removed from office. The dispute remained unresolved until an attempted impeachment of Buckingham led to Charles dissolving Parliament, and so Charles augmented his income with a ‘forced loan’ instead.

This set the scene for the remainder of the decade, with Charles’ attempts to raise money creating further conflicts which made Parliament unwilling to co-operate. Charles’ next Parliament introduced a Petition of Right, which agreed to finance the Crown so long as a number of grievances were addressed, but Charles accepted only grudgingly, doing his best to undermine it. Once again this aligns with Russell’s description of ‘a political style which tended to advertise the fact that concessions were made unwillingly’, 13 and did nothing to improve Parliament’s trust in him; they carried on and passed three resolutions against his continued flouting of the Petition of Right, whereupon he cited ‘seditious carriage’ sparked by ‘some few vipers’ 14 and dissolved Parliament.

This was the beginning of Charles’ personal rule. While opinion is divided as to whether it was a tyranny (see, for example, Kevin Sharpe 15 for an argument that it was not), it was certainly marked by continuing financial problems, among other things. Fundamentally the problem was that, since Charles could not impose taxation without Parliament, he needed to find ever more novel ways of generating revenue without new taxes. He had a particular talent for obeying the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit; for example, Ship Money was generally accepted to be within his power to raise, but his imposition of it on inland counties was an unwelcome innovation, 16 as was his designation of a significant part of Essex as royal forest, upon which landowners were then fined for encroaching. 17

However, these only increased the grievances against him; when Charles finally called a new Parliament in 1640, it was because of a lack of money to fund the war effort against Scotland. For its part, Parliament, once called, was more concerned with discussing the King’s attempts at taxation, among other things, than in giving him more money.

The second recurring conflict throughout the early Stuart period was religion; again, this was an issue which did not begin with the Stuarts, but rather dated back to Henry VIII. A settlement had been reached under Elizabeth, but the issue was raised again by the Millenary Petition early in James’ reign, from Puritans who saw the opportunity, under a new monarch, to push for further reform. However, the religious situation remained relatively stable, with James opposing major changes in either direction. His adherence to a middle way is evidenced by the opposition from both sides — although there was ongoing suspicion about his Catholic sympathies, particularly around the time of the Spanish Match, he was also (famously) the target of a Catholic assassination plot and firmly Protestant in his own convictions. 18

Charles again differed from his father, both in his religious convictions and his policies. His inclination towards the ceremony of Arminianism, seen as dangerously close to Catholicism by suspicious Protestants, along with his marriage to a French Catholic princess, increased tensions with Puritans. However, it is easy to judge him harshly on his inflexibility in this regard: Charles’ religious convictions were sincere, and not easily abandoned; while his pursuit of them may be seen as tactless, and he may have benefited from his father’s ability to know when to back down, it should be remembered that he was not setting out to be unreasonable.

His appointment of the Arminian Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, against the advice of his father, further incited discontent. As well as the “popish” tendencies he displayed, he was a strong proponent of uniformity in the Anglican church, which inevitably brought him (and by extension Charles) into conflict with the various Dissenting movements of the period. In particular, his plans to introduce the Anglican prayerbook in Scotland can be argued to be one of the more direct causes of the conflict.

The prayerbook had been introduced with little consultation, and along with Scotland’s pride in its independence from England and its discontent as the junior partner of the personal union, it was said that the Reformation in England was “verrie far inferior” to that of Scotland; 19 the strength of this opinion can be demonstrated by the rioting it provoked at St Giles’, and the later, more organised resistance in the form of the National Covenant. Charles’ attempts to bring this resistance under control were hampered by his usual inflexibility. His tendency was to refuse absolutely to negotiate, only to be left with no choice but to back down, a tendency remarked upon even by his supporters: “those particulars which I have so often sworn and said your Matie would never condiscend to, will now be granted, therefore they will give no credit to what I shall say ther after, but will still hope and believe, that all their desires will be given way to”.

The failure to negotiated escalated to the point where the Covenanters raised an army against Charles; the need to raise money to defend against this forced Charles to summon a Parliament at last. However, as noted above, this Parliament had other priorities; and beyond the financial disputes, the Short Parliament itself had a strong Puritan element and opposed Charles’ religious innovations. Charles, given the choice of negotiating with the Scots or with Parliament, chose to do neither, dissolving Parliament within three weeks and continuing to raise an army against Scotland. This spectacularly poor decision led to the occupation of New- castle by a Scottish army and the summoning of another Parliament within six months.

The Long Parliament was even less inclined to negotiate than the Short Parliament had been, immediately setting about a series of reforms, such as the Triennial act, and proceeding to impeach Laud and Strafford, Charles’ most unpopular advisors. After disagreement over the handling of the Irish Uprising, Parliament (led by Pym) issued the Grand Remonstrance, detailing the many grievances since the start of the reign and positioning itself as the true de- fender of English liberty; Charles once more perceived dissent as a conspiracy against him and eventually retaliated by attempting to round up the ringleaders, marching to Parliament with armed soldiers. The resulting outcry led to his flight from London to Oxford and can be seen as the start of the civil war in England. Parliament declared itself to have no need of royal assent and the King eventually summoned an alternative Parliament at Oxford.

Across a range of themes it can be seen that Charles was rarely, if ever, the fundamental cause of the conflict. The social, political, and economic problems of his reign were structural, dating back a century or more, with religious differences developing from the reigns of Henry VIII and especially Mary, and economic problems starting possibly even earlier than that. 20 The transition to James’ reign and personal union with Scotland marked a watershed and James became a convenient scapegoat, but more recently attention has been paid to 1625, or even later, as the point of no return. It is hard to lay all the blame on Charles, given the presence of these century-old structural issues, but also difficult to ignore his personal weaknesses that led him to fail so drastically (and terminally) at addressing them. Perhaps if Henry, Prince of Wales, had not died in 1612 and had succeeded his father in place of his younger brother, the middle part of the century would have looked drastically different. There are, however, no simple solutions to the question of blame in the English Revolution.

Samuel R. Gardiner, History of England from the Accession of James I to the Outbreak of the Civil War (Longmans, Green & Co., 1883), [v]{.smallcaps}, p. 316.  ↩︎

David Lawrence Smith, ‘Politics in Early Stuart Britain, 1603–1640’, in A Companion to Stuart Britain , ed. by Barry Coward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 233–52.  ↩︎

R. E. Foster, ‘Conflicts and Loyalties: The Parliaments of Elizabeth I’, History Review , 56, 2006 < >.  ↩︎

I read this during the research for this essay, but have since been unable to find the reference again.  ↩︎

Smith.  ↩︎

L. J. Reeve, Charles I and the Road to Personal Rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 173.  ↩︎

Megan Mondi, ‘The Speeches and Self-Fashioning of King James VI and I to the English Parliament, 1604-1624’, Constructing the Past , 8.1 (2007), 139–82 < >.  ↩︎

Conrad Russell, ‘The British Problem and the English Civil War’, History , 72, 1987, 395 < >.  ↩︎

Arthur Leslie Morton, A People’s History of England , 3rd edn (Lawrence & Wishart, 1989), p. 179.  ↩︎

Austin Herbert Woolrych, Britain in Revolution: 1625–1660 (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 16–17.  ↩︎

Russell.  ↩︎

The Personal Rule of Charles I (Yale University Press, 1992).  ↩︎

R.H Fritze and W. B. Robison, Historical Dictionary of Stuart England: 1603–1689 (Greenwood, 1996), p. 201.  ↩︎

Woolrych.  ↩︎

Woolrych; Morton.  ↩︎

The English Civil War: Causes, Costs and Benefits Term Paper

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Factors that led to civil war

The number of people who perished, gains or advantages, works cited.

The English Civil War broke out in 1642 and lasted for nine years (Coates 1-2). The parliament and monarchial administration disagreed on the ideals and principles upheld by each side and their unwillingness to cede ground on any issue (Henry and Delf 2). In the end, a war became the only option to settle their issues (Henry and Delf 2-6). The war occurred in three stages or periods. The first two stages occurred in 1642–1646 and in 1648–1649 (Backman 1-10) involving the Long Legislature and King Charles the first. The final stage occurred in 1649–1651 and involved the Rump Legislature and the Royal leadership under King Charles the second (Backman 3).

Ultimately, the Parliament emerged victorious and made changes both to justice and governance system. When it comes to the law, the English Civil War acted as a platform for establishing governance standards for future English leaders. That is, they had to derive consent or approval from Parliament whenever they wanted to pursue in issue of national interest (Henry and Delf 4). This paper discusses the English civil war in terms of causative factors, costs/disadvantages, and advantages/benefits.

Whig school of thought

According to Whig school of thought, the Civil War resulted from a protracted struggle between the Monarchial rule and parliamentary rule (White 3-5). In this case, the parliament wanted the conventional rights of people preserved, whilst the royal leadership wanted to expand its right in a way that would allow it to dictate issues (Backman 4-6).

Marxist school of thought

According to Marxist school of thought, the English Civil War was purely a class war (Henry and Delf 5-7). That is, those who benefited a lot from the dictatorship of Charles the first such as lords and church leaders, strongly defended his leadership, whilst parliament with the support of middle classes such as industrial and trading groups strongly resisted the monarchial leadership (Coates 2).

Revisionist school of thought

Revisionist, on the other hand, indicated that the English civil war arose from different factors each having a significant impact. For instance, Anglican doctrines were to be imposed on the Scottish and were strongly resisted (Coates 4). King Charles then had to use the military to enforce his directive. With this, he also forced the legislature to raise the tax in order to get sufficient amount of money to sustain the army (Backman 7). However, other groups still resisted his directive as no side was willing to compromise.

Local demands and problems

The monarchial leadership was also resisted as a result of local displeasures (Backman 10-13). For instance, the livelihood of many people was negatively impacted after the enforcement of drainage-schemes. With this, many people thought that King Charles was too insensitive to local grievances (White 4). This aspect saw many easterners join parliament a group that played a role in resisting the tyrannical leadership of King Charles.

Unwilling to convene parliament

Since the King was not able to raise money or revenue through the legislature, he was not willing to convene it (Henry and Delf 23-25). This meant that he would use other orthodox means to raise money. He started by bringing back into effect some outdated principles. For example, those who failed to turn up for coronation of the king were to pay a certain fine. The King also introduced ship tax payable by inlanders for sustenance of the Royal Navy. The wealthy were also compelled to purchase titles. Those who refused were fined heavily (Henry and Delf 9). Some people refused to pay any of these taxes arguing that they were unlawful. They were taken to courts and fined heavily for refusing to abide by the set laws (Backman 5). This aspect provoked widespread fury against the king’s leadership.

The constitutionality of parliament and a show of power

Before the civil war, the English Parliament did not have any permanent responsibility provided for in law and constitution. The parliament only convened on temporary basis and only served as an advisory committee to the royal leadership (White 6-10). The king also would dissolve it whenever he wanted. As such it lacked legal powers to force its will upon the government. This issue did not please many people especially parliamentarians.

As a show of power and strength, in 1941 parliament ordered for the execution of Strafford, the key adviser to the King. In addition, parliament demanded for the abolition of the Star Chamber court (Backman 23-33). This issue savored the relationship between the king and parliament, with the king leading an army to parliament to arrest his main opponents.

The concern of parliament with regard to the petition of right

When the king married Henrietta Maria, a catholic, many people raised concerns over the issue (White 3). The concerns were centered on a possibility of raising catholic children including future monarch leaders. This was a deep seated issue based on the fact that England was officially protestant under the Church of England (White 4). The other aspect is the decision by the king to intervene on the European Protestant war. This meant that the expenditure would increase something that parliament was unwilling to sanction.

During the English civil war, figures for casualties are not reliable, although some rough estimates have been provided (Henry and Delf 11-13). These estimates point out that England suffered a loss of about four percent, Scotland about six percent and Ireland about forty percent of the entire population. From this figures, it is apparent that Ireland was hard hit by the civil war than England and Ireland.

A number of ordinary people derived a lot of benefits from the lawlessness of civil society during the war period (Backman 2). People living in the countryside seized many things such as timber and estates from the church leadership and the royal family. Living conditions improved particularly for communities living on acquired estates. After the first stage of the civil war, it became apparent that the traditional way of life advanced by the king had started fading. Some element of democracy was also introduced (Henry and Delf 4). Ultimately, since the monarchial leadership was declared null and void, three countries, Scotland, Ireland and England, were administered under the commonwealth of England.

The English Civil War resulted from the disagreement between the parliament and the monarchial leadership or the government. Whilst the king had absolute powers to dictate on whatever he wanted, the parliament kept enhancing especially in the context of sanctioning tax collection for the government. Often, parliament would not yield to the demands of the king, leading to protracted sideshows and eventually the war that claimed many lives.

Backman, Clifford. The cultures of the West: a history, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

Coates, Ben. The impact of the English Civil War on the economy of London, 1642-50, Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Press, 2004. Print.

Henry, Chris and Brian Delf. English Civil War artillery 1642-51, Oxford, London: Osprey Publishing, 2005. Print.

White, Michelle. Henrietta Maria and the English civil wars. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press, 2006. Print.

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This option provides for the study in depth of the challenges faced by those in authority in the years before, during and after the English Civil War. It explores concepts such as Divine Right; arbitrary government, Arminianism, and political and religious radicalism. It also encourages an in-depth understanding of how government works, arbitrary government and consensus, authority and opposition and issues of settlement.

Part one: the origins of the English Civil War, 1625–1642

The emergence of conflict and the end of consensus, 1625–1629.

  • The legacy of James I: religious issues and divisions; relations between Crown and Parliament; relations with foreign powers
  • Monarchy and Divine Right: the character and aims of Charles I; the Queen and the court; the King's advisers; ideas of royal authority
  • Challenges to the arbitrary government of Charles I: reactions against financial policies; conflict over Church; reactions against foreign policy and the role of Buckingham
  • Parliamentary radicalism; personalities and policies of parliamentary opposition to the King; the Petition of Right; the dissolution of Parliament and the King’s commitment to Personal Rule

An experiment in Absolutism, 1629–1640

  • Charles I’s Personal Rule: his chief ministers; methods of government; financial policies and the reaction against them
  • Religious issues: Laud and Arminianism in England and Scotland; the growth of opposition from Puritans
  • Political issues: the role of Wentworth; policies in Ireland and England; the reactions against the Crown; demands for the recall of Parliament
  • Radicalism, dissent and the approach of war: the spread of religious radicalism; the Scottish Covenant and the Bishops' War; the Pacification of Berwick; the second Bishops' war

The crisis of Parliament and the outbreak of the First Civil War, 1640–1642

  • The Political Nation 1640: the recall of Parliament; the strengths and weaknesses of Charles I; the strengths and divisions of parliamentary opposition
  • Pym and the development of parliamentary radicalism: Pym’s personality and aims; the Grand Remonstrance; the London mob; popular radicalism
  • Conflicts between Crown and Parliament: failure of negotiations between the King and the Long Parliament; the execution of Strafford and its political consequences
  • The slide into war: the impact of events in Ireland; the failed arrest of the Five Members; local grievances; attempts to impose royal authority and the development of a Royalist Party; military preparations for war

Part two: Radicalism, Republic and Restoration, 1642–1660 (A-level only)

War and radicalism, 1642–1646 (a-level only).

  • The First Civil War: the strengths and weaknesses of the political and military leadership of the Royalist cause
  • The First Civil War: the strengths and weaknesses of the political and military leadership of the Parliamentary forces; emergence of the New Model Army; the Solemn League and Covenant; Self Denying Ordinance
  • The intensification of radicalism: popular radicalism in London; religious radicalism in the New Model Army; pamphlets and propaganda
  • The end of the First Civil War: divisions amongst the Parliamentary leaders; attempts at settlement; the capture of Charles I

The disintegration of the Political Nation, 1646–1649 (A-level only)

  • Political and religious radicalism: the politicisation of the New Model Army; Lilburne and the Levellers; Fifth Monarchists; Ranters and other populist groups
  • Political and religious divisions: the attitude and actions of Charles I; divisions within the opposition to the King; the failure of attempts to reach a political settlement
  • The Second Civil War and the reasons for its outcome
  • The problem of Charles I: divisions within the army and Parliament; the trial and execution of the King

Experiments in government and society, 1648–1660 (A-level only)

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  • The monarchy restored: political vacuum after the death of Cromwell; negotiations for the return of the monarchy under Charles II; the legacy of the English Revolution by 1660

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  • The Causes of the English Civil War

From 1642 to 1658, England descended into turmoil. First, civil war erupted and the country divided into opposing Royalist and Parliamentarian factions. Next, the king, Charles I, was found guilty of treason and executed in January 1649. Finally, Oliver Cromwell, the man who had fought so hard for the rights of Parliament, established a quasi-dictatorship in 1653. These events were completely unprecedented and unexpected. Why had England become so chaotic? The Causes of the English Civil War were manifold: this article explores some of the key long term and short term causes.

Daniël Mijtens, Charles I, 1625

Long term causes :

Under Charles I’s father James I the role of monarchy had begun to decline. James was often labelled as the "wisest fool in Christendom". He subscribed to the doctrine of the "divine right of kings", which was the belief that God select kings as and God could do no wrong, neither a king - this made James believe he was unanswerable to Parliament.

However, Parliament’s great power over James was money - they had it and he needed it. As a result, the two sides clashed with regards to custom duties , which provided the king was a regular income, but Parliament stated that he could not collect it without them granting him their permission. Consequently, James suspended Parliament in 1911 and it would not meet for another 10 years. James used his friends to run the country and rewarded them with titles. This made many MPs angry.

In 1621, Parliament was recalled as James wished to discuss the future marriage between his son, Charles, and a Spanish princess. This sparked outrage in Parliament as they feared that Charles’s children would be raised as Catholics.

Although the marriage never actually went ahead, the damage it had done had still not healed by the times of James’s death in 1625.

Short term causes :

James’ son Charles was conceited and strongly believed in the divine right of kings. He had observed his father’s arguments with Parliament naturally blamed the MPs.

Between the years 1625 and 1629, Charles and Parliament clashed over money and religion. And then, in 1629, Charles, much like his father had done, refused to let Parliament meet - he locked the doors to Westminster with large chains and padlocks. They were locked out for 11 years: this period was named the Personal Rule, or the Eleven Years Tyranny.

Again Charles was left the problem of having to raise funds, and to do so rich men were persuaded to buy titles.

Another tactic Charles used was to make the country pay what is known as Ship Money. This was a tax traditionally paid by coastal towns and villages during wartime to help pay for the upkeep of the navy. But in 1635 Charles decided that everyone should pay because they all benefitted from the navy’s protection.

John Hampden, a powerful MP, famously refused to pay the new tax because Parliament had not agreed to it. He was put on trial and found guilty, but he became a hero for standing up to the king.

But Charles did not only clash with Parliament; his relationship with the Scots was also turbulent, particularly when he ordered that a new prayer book should be used within their church services, which in turn prompted the angry to Scots to invade England in 1639. His lack of funds meant that in 1640 Charles had no choice but to recall Parliament. Only they could help Charles raise the necessary money for a war.

In return for their help, Parliament made several demands:

  • Laud and Strafford would be removed as advisors and put on trial.
  • Ship Money would be declared illegal
  • Charles would agree that Parliament could never be dismissed without Parliament’s assent. If Parliament was dismissed, no more than three years would elapse before a new Parliament was called.

The Earl of Strafford - "Black Tom Tyrant" -  was one of Charles I’s top advisors. He was tried and executed in 1641.

By 1642, relations between Parliament and Charles had further deteriorated. The demands of Parliament were inimical to Charles, who believed strongly in the divine right of kings.

In 1642, Charles arrived in Westminster with 300 soldiers and attempted to arrest five of his most virulent critics. Someone close to the king tipped off Parliament and the men fled before Charles arrived. However, Charles I had now shown his true side. MPs represented the people, and yet here was Charles attempting to arrest five MPs simply for daring to criticise him. How many other MPs were not safe? Charles realised that his relationship with Parliament was now irrevocably broken. Six days after the attempted arrest debacle, Charles left London for Oxford to raise an army. Civil war was now on its way.

The English Civil War

Timeline of Causes of the English Civil War

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Causes of the English Civil War". 2024. Web.

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What caused the English Civil War?

What caused the English Civil War?

Subject: History

Age range: 11-14

Resource type: Lesson (complete)

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Last updated

14 January 2019

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causes of the civil war 1642 essay

This KS3 unit should take around two hours to complete. The Power Point leads students through all of the activities with support and all resources referred to are included.

Aims and Objectives:

  • To know the main events which led up to the outbreak of civil war in 1642.
  • To pick out the key reasons/causes and sort these into categories.
  • To explain your understanding of the causes in an essay using PEEL.
  • To reach a judgement on which causes were the most/least important.

Activities include a starter which links this unit to current civil wars and defines “civil war”, an analysis of Charles I’s personality using a portrait and facts determining how this contributed towards the conflict, searching for evidence to support the three key factors of money/religion/power in a written passage (SEN version of passage provided), an introduction and worked example of PEEL paragraphing, an assessment essay aalysing causes with a plan and SEN writing frame (mark scheme inlcuded).

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The Stuarts: Full Unit of Study

This KS3 unit of study should take around 15 hours to complete. There is a Power Point included for every lesson which leads students through the activities and provides advice and guidance where required. In teaching/loose chronological order, the lessons include: - King James I, witchcraft and science - The Gunpowder Plot - Causes of the English Civil War - Events of the civil war and Charles' defeat - The execution of Charles I - Oliver Cromwell: Hero or Villian? - The Plague in London - The Great Fire of London, 1666 There are a great range of activities including discussion, speech writing, pamphlet making and formal assessments. The two formal assessments are the essay on the causes of the Civil War and a source investigation into Oliver Cromwell. Writing frames and mark schemes are included for these. For more details, please refer to individual lesson summaries.

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By: Editors

Updated: April 20, 2023 | Original: October 15, 2009

SpotsylvaniaMay 1864: The battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

The Civil War in the United States began in 1861, after decades of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights and westward expansion. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 caused seven southern states to secede and form the Confederate States of America; four more states soon joined them. The War Between the States, as the Civil War was also known, ended in Confederate surrender in 1865. The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and much of the South left in ruin.

Causes of the Civil War

In the mid-19th century, while the United States was experiencing an era of tremendous growth, a fundamental economic difference existed between the country’s northern and southern regions.

In the North, manufacturing and industry was well established, and agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms, while the South’s economy was based on a system of large-scale farming that depended on the labor of Black enslaved people to grow certain crops, especially cotton and tobacco.

Growing abolitionist sentiment in the North after the 1830s and northern opposition to slavery’s extension into the new western territories led many southerners to fear that the existence of slavery in America —and thus the backbone of their economy—was in danger.

Did you know? Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned his famous nickname, "Stonewall," from his steadfast defensive efforts in the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). At Chancellorsville, Jackson was shot by one of his own men, who mistook him for Union cavalry. His arm was amputated, and he died from pneumonia eight days later.

In 1854, the U.S. Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act , which essentially opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict. Pro- and anti-slavery forces struggled violently in “ Bleeding Kansas ,” while opposition to the act in the North led to the formation of the Republican Party , a new political entity based on the principle of opposing slavery’s extension into the western territories. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case (1857) confirmed the legality of slavery in the territories, the abolitionist John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 convinced more and more southerners that their northern neighbors were bent on the destruction of the “peculiar institution” that sustained them. Abraham Lincoln ’s election in November 1860 was the final straw, and within three months seven southern states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas—had seceded from the United States.

Outbreak of the Civil War (1861)

Even as Lincoln took office in March 1861, Confederate forces threatened the federal-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. On April 12, after Lincoln ordered a fleet to resupply Sumter, Confederate artillery fired the first shots of the Civil War. Sumter’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered after less than two days of bombardment, leaving the fort in the hands of Confederate forces under Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Four more southern states—Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee—joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter. Border slave states like Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland did not secede, but there was much Confederate sympathy among their citizens.

Though on the surface the Civil War may have seemed a lopsided conflict, with the 23 states of the Union enjoying an enormous advantage in population, manufacturing (including arms production) and railroad construction, the Confederates had a strong military tradition, along with some of the best soldiers and commanders in the nation. They also had a cause they believed in: preserving their long-held traditions and institutions, chief among these being slavery.

In the First Battle of Bull Run (known in the South as First Manassas) on July 21, 1861, 35,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson forced a greater number of Union forces (or Federals) to retreat towards Washington, D.C., dashing any hopes of a quick Union victory and leading Lincoln to call for 500,000 more recruits. In fact, both sides’ initial call for troops had to be widened after it became clear that the war would not be a limited or short conflict.

The Civil War in Virginia (1862)

George B. McClellan —who replaced the aging General Winfield Scott as supreme commander of the Union Army after the first months of the war—was beloved by his troops, but his reluctance to advance frustrated Lincoln. In the spring of 1862, McClellan finally led his Army of the Potomac up the peninsula between the York and James Rivers, capturing Yorktown on May 4. The combined forces of Robert E. Lee and Jackson successfully drove back McClellan’s army in the Seven Days’ Battles (June 25-July 1), and a cautious McClellan called for yet more reinforcements in order to move against Richmond. Lincoln refused, and instead withdrew the Army of the Potomac to Washington. By mid-1862, McClellan had been replaced as Union general-in-chief by Henry W. Halleck, though he remained in command of the Army of the Potomac.

Lee then moved his troops northwards and split his men, sending Jackson to meet Pope’s forces near Manassas, while Lee himself moved separately with the second half of the army. On August 29, Union troops led by John Pope struck Jackson’s forces in the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas). The next day, Lee hit the Federal left flank with a massive assault, driving Pope’s men back towards Washington. On the heels of his victory at Manassas, Lee began the first Confederate invasion of the North. Despite contradictory orders from Lincoln and Halleck, McClellan was able to reorganize his army and strike at Lee on September 14 in Maryland, driving the Confederates back to a defensive position along Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg.

On September 17, the Army of the Potomac hit Lee’s forces (reinforced by Jackson’s) in what became the war’s bloodiest single day of fighting. Total casualties at the Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg) numbered 12,410 of some 69,000 troops on the Union side, and 13,724 of around 52,000 for the Confederates. The Union victory at Antietam would prove decisive, as it halted the Confederate advance in Maryland and forced Lee to retreat into Virginia. Still, McClellan’s failure to pursue his advantage earned him the scorn of Lincoln and Halleck, who removed him from command in favor of Ambrose E. Burnside . Burnside’s assault on Lee’s troops near Fredericksburg on December 13 ended in heavy Union casualties and a Confederate victory; he was promptly replaced by Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker , and both armies settled into winter quarters across the Rappahannock River from each other.

After the Emancipation Proclamation (1863-4)

Lincoln had used the occasion of the Union victory at Antietam to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation , which freed all enslaved people in the rebellious states after January 1, 1863. He justified his decision as a wartime measure, and did not go so far as to free the enslaved people in the border states loyal to the Union. Still, the Emancipation Proclamation deprived the Confederacy of the bulk of its labor forces and put international public opinion strongly on the Union side. Some 186,000 Black Civil War soldiers would join the Union Army by the time the war ended in 1865, and 38,000 lost their lives.

In the spring of 1863, Hooker’s plans for a Union offensive were thwarted by a surprise attack by the bulk of Lee’s forces on May 1, whereupon Hooker pulled his men back to Chancellorsville. The Confederates gained a costly victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville , suffering 13,000 casualties (around 22 percent of their troops); the Union lost 17,000 men (15 percent). Lee launched another invasion of the North in June, attacking Union forces commanded by General George Meade on July 1 near Gettysburg, in southern Pennsylvania. Over three days of fierce fighting, the Confederates were unable to push through the Union center, and suffered casualties of close to 60 percent.

Meade failed to counterattack, however, and Lee’s remaining forces were able to escape into Virginia, ending the last Confederate invasion of the North. Also in July 1863, Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant took Vicksburg (Mississippi) in the Siege of Vicksburg , a victory that would prove to be the turning point of the war in the western theater. After a Confederate victory at Chickamauga Creek, Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September, Lincoln expanded Grant’s command, and he led a reinforced Federal army (including two corps from the Army of the Potomac) to victory in the Battle of Chattanooga in late November.

Toward a Union Victory (1864-65)

In March 1864, Lincoln put Grant in supreme command of the Union armies, replacing Halleck. Leaving William Tecumseh Sherman in control in the West, Grant headed to Washington, where he led the Army of the Potomac towards Lee’s troops in northern Virginia. Despite heavy Union casualties in the Battle of the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania (both May 1864), at Cold Harbor (early June) and the key rail center of Petersburg (June), Grant pursued a strategy of attrition, putting Petersburg under siege for the next nine months.

Sherman outmaneuvered Confederate forces to take Atlanta by September, after which he and some 60,000 Union troops began the famous “March to the Sea,” devastating Georgia on the way to capturing Savannah on December 21. Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, fell to Sherman’s men by mid-February, and Jefferson Davis belatedly handed over the supreme command to Lee, with the Confederate war effort on its last legs. Sherman pressed on through North Carolina, capturing Fayetteville, Bentonville, Goldsboro and Raleigh by mid-April.

Meanwhile, exhausted by the Union siege of Petersburg and Richmond, Lee’s forces made a last attempt at resistance, attacking and captured the Federal-controlled Fort Stedman on March 25. An immediate counterattack reversed the victory, however, and on the night of April 2-3 Lee’s forces evacuated Richmond. For most of the next week, Grant and Meade pursued the Confederates along the Appomattox River, finally exhausting their possibilities for escape. Grant accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. On the eve of victory, the Union lost its great leader: The actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington on April 14. Sherman received Johnston’s surrender at Durham Station, North Carolina on April 26, effectively ending the Civil War.

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