The Civil War, 1642-6

With the King having fled London and several months of propaganda war between the two 'sides', war finally broke out in August 1642. At the battle of Edgehill the two sides met for the first time; after an inconclusive battle the Royalist army had a strategic opportunity as Essex's withdrawal opened the route to London; however, delayed by setting up a garrison at Oxford, the Parliamentarian army beat Charles to the City. Charles had missed his opportunity for an early victory. With the London militia Essex's army numbered close to 20,000 at Turnham Green. Charles first withdrew to Reading before establishing the Royalist headquarters at Oxford. The autumn campaign of 1642 decided that the Civil War would be long and arduous, and illustrated that both sides were ill prepared.

Superficially Parliament seemed to hold the advantage - London and Bristol and other ports along the south and east coast were loyal. The Royalists only had the port of Newcastle and little shipping. Control of London also allowed Parliament access to the City's financial reserves. Controlling London and the ports would have been considerable advantages had the Civil War lasted longer than four years.

In 1642 the immediate concern for each of the protagonists was to maximise their potential assets. The organisation of Parliament's war effort during the early stages of the conflict was insufficient to provide long-term support a principal field army supplemented by numerous local forces. Reforms were forthcoming however: at the end of 1642 the creation of county committees, regional associations and the weekly assessment were important logistical and fiscal developments that, after initial problems, became vital to the organisation of Parliament's continued challenge against Charles I.

While both sides consolidated organisation and logistics, demands for peace grew in the provinces and at the centre. Neutralism [6] is one of the strongest indicators that demonstrate Civil War was undesirable in the country at large.

[6. Neutralism: The attempt of numerous English counties and towns to remain outside the theatre of Civil War, at times even taking the form of a 'third force' to prevent either of the protagonists' armies occupying their territory. The Clubmen movement was part of this: their demands being that the Civil War was conducted in an orderly fashion, ending taxation, and the agreement of peace on the grounds of Royalist petitions. The latter upheld the preservation of bishops and the Protestant Church, firm treatment of Catholics, and agreement between Charles and Parliament along the lines of the 'political settlement' of 1641. Risings of Clubmen in various parts of the country worked against the Royalist cause and contributed to their defeat. Neutralism is an important sign that the population at large did not want Civil War and that it was primarily a conflict between the political élite into which the rest of the population became embroiled in one way or another.]

Both Parliament and Charles initiated discussions aimed at bringing an end to conflict during the winter 1642-3. The talks at Oxford failed as both parties made demands far beyond the scope of reason - Parliament demanded the abolition of episcopacy, and Charles that all Parliament's military and naval assets and fortifications be surrendered to the Crown immediately. Typically, while negotiating with Parliament at Oxford, Charles considered alternatives including prompting a rising in the City, military alliance with Scotland (which failed as Charles was unwilling to adopt Kirk-style Presbyterianism) and of course, treating with the Irish rebels. Two key factors in the ability of Parliament to defeat the Royalist forces were the military reorganisations of Parliament and the alliance with the Scots (Link to 'Scots in England, 1640- 51']. The former was undeniably the most important as it removed MPs such as Essex from the field and allowed more competent men such as Cromwell and Fairfax (who, it must be stressed, were also 'gentlemen'). The commanders who stepped into the void this measure created were of a different ideological outlook on the conflict - they realised they must defeat Charles and force on their King a settlement that would guarantee the rights and liberties of Parliament and the people. More importantly, Parliament founded the infamous New Model Army [7] in 1645, which swept away the main Royalist forces in the midlands and south of England and Wales. The Scots were important in securing Parliament's control of the north of England and eliminating the threat of Charles' supporter the earl of Montrose from Scotland.

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