Were the Parliamentarians Aware of How Radical Going to War Against Their King Was?

History Hit Podcast with Leanda de Lisle

3 mins

12 Nov 2018

This article is an edited transcript of Charles I Reconsidered with Leanda de Lisle on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 22 November 2015. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.

Many people did realise how radical the Civil War was, and that’s probably why there was a Civil War. Parliament wanted to strip the King of his rights to choose who his children married among other things.

As an aside, I hate calling them Parliament because it was only ever a portion of Parliament, but for ease, we’ll call it Parliament.

People were aware that they were making very radical demands.

But equally, those who supported Parliament would say that it was necessary because Charles I himself was behaving radically by having been prepared to rule without Parliament for many years, by raising taxes without parliamentary consent, by his religious changes, and so forth.

King Charles I as painted by Gerard van Honthorst. Credit: National Portrait Gallery / Commons.

Charles was radical. So there were two radical sides.

There’s an interesting parallel with the Thirty Years War in which starts with protestant German states rejecting the authority of their catholic Habsburg overlord.

People had become much more radical in the wake of the Reformation. That was the reason for the need for the divine right of kings.

James I, of course, has seen his mother had been overthrown in Scotland, a catholic monarch overthrown by protestants.

He himself had faced problems in Scotland at the hands of fellow protestants, he’d come to England, he’d faced the gunpowder plots at the hands of catholics.

Depiction of John Calvin, a crucial religious thinker during the Reformation, and whose teachings would reshape English society. Artist unknown. Credit: Library of Geneva / Commons.

I think the 30 Years’ War had an enormous impact in Britain because English protestants who were, as I said, Calvinists, saw themselves as a part of a wider Calvinist church.

People think of Henry VIII’s reformation as being a kind of Brexit. But his form of nationalised Catholicism had not survived him. Instead, afterwards you saw this protestant church, which was introduced under Edward VI, which was a Calvinist church fundamentally.

British Calvinists saw themselves as a part of a European Calvinist church, and what happened in Europe mattered enormously to them.

Calvinism and Protestantism in general was in retreat by this time. In 1590, protestants held half the land area of Europe. A hundred years later, they only held a fifth.

William’s forces cross the River Boyne. From the documentary Battlefield Britain: The Battle of the Boyne on HistoryHit.TV. Watch Now

People were also aware that protestantism had only really survived where it was imposed or permitted by monarchs. This is another reason they felt they needed to have control over the monarchy, and over who the monarch was.

Charles as a commander had good qualities. He was personally extremely brave and he inspired great loyalty.

The problem is, Parliament has control of London and the Southeast, and with it, the majority of England’s wealth and population, as well as the navy. For a time, they also have an alliance with the Scots.

Nevertheless, it takes many years to defeat Charles militarily. Everyone expected things to be over with one battle, which they expected the king to lose.

When he raised his standard at Nottingham, it was a pathetic scene. There were a couple of hundred sort of measly, sad looking people in the rain.

Then he fought the Battle of Edgehill, which ended in a sort of bloody draw, and which he almost won.

Parliament were suffering from battle shock at the end of it all, and they didn’t defeat Charles for many years. It drove Cromwell dotty.

Charles’ had money and support from magnates who would raise the local levees to fight and there were also committed volunteers signing up to fight for a cause they believed in.

Henrietta Maria actually did a pretty good job in Europe raising money and arms for her husband’s cause. She was a very powerful supporter for him.

Header image credit: Charles I with M. de St Antoine by Anthony van Dyck, 1633. Credit: Commons.

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