Why did the English Civil War break out in 1642?



  • From the beginning a lot is riding on the Long Parliament
  • Floods of people turn out to elect it
  • The Parliamentary anti-Court consensus is united in resentment for Personal Rule policies
  • Strafford's policies in Ireland and the North have been an unsettling glimpse into what absolute rule would be like
  • HOWEVER Parliament not radical at this point, have no actual plan of reform; in this way quite conservative.
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Was it Charles' actions?

  • Uncompromising: although arguable that some elements of 10 propositions (June 1641) and 19 propositions (June 1642) were unreasonable, Charles was stubborn and this made settlement dificult to come by.
  • When he DID compromise, e.g by signing Strafford's death warrant in May 1641, he showed weakness; that he would usually always capitulate.
  • Five Members Coup Jan 1642: direct breach of the sanctity of Parliament. Made Charles look incompetent and drove many MPs back to Pym who before was thought too radical.
  • ALSO the mob that turned on Charles after FMC, drove him out of London, opening up a two-sided conflict and perpetuating progress towards war.
  • Personal Rule: arguably tyrannical policies pushed Pym and some MPs desires further towards radical, evidenced by execution of Strafford 1641 (and eventually Laud in 1645), and the dismantling of Charles prerogative powers in 1641 e.g abolition of Prerogative courts and abolition of Charles' right to dissolve Parliament w/o their consent.
  • This arguably encroached on Charles' god-given prerogative, made him feel antagonised and increasing conflict between two sides.
  • Also in turn increased reactionary conservatism from some MPs who would in the end fight for the King (?).
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Was it the actions of Pym and others?

  • Arguable that in early 1641, Parliament's actions in dismantling of royal Prerogative (abolition of Courts and Prerog. taxation) was just normalising government after Personal Rule.
  • HOWEVER arguable that beyond this Parliament began to overstep the mark and began to encroach on Charles' Prerogative in an unrealistic way.
  • 10 Propositions in June, which called for Parliament's approval of ministers, was first e.g of Pym and his group asking too much, first signs of opposition to him.
  • Grand Remonstrance November 1641, which amongst other policies called for Parliament to control the army, was considered a real breach of prerogative; King's right to lead army into battle is a fundamental one. Controversial nature evidenced by fact that it split Parliament down the middle, being passed 159 votes to 148.
  • It is here arguable that Pym himself was too ambitious, and his methods were often questioned e.g his use of the London Mob to put pressure on the House of Lords, which alienated some MPs and pushed side taking.
  • The 19 Propositions June 1642 were ambitious to say the least; called for Parliament's control of army, the direction of government policy and even Charles' children. Arguably the final straw, declared war 2 months later.
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Was it a fear of Catholic conspiracy?

  • Significance of this factor often underestimated, important to remember the highly religious context of the time.
  • By 1642, side taking arguably dictated by religion; Parliamentarians believed that they were fighting against evil Catholic advisers like Richard Weston and Francis Cottington, and the influence of Henrietta Maria, who were pushing the established Church towards Catholicism.
  • After Laud's religious policies of 1630s, promoted Arminianism and appeared dangerously influenced by Catholicism to the Protestant public, increased fear of 'popish' influence and determination to reverse Laud's policies.
  • This anxiety is evidences by Root and Branch petition of Feb 1641 which called for abolition of episcopacy, and element of Grand Remonstrance that called for restriction of bishops' powers.
  • The break out of rebellion in Ireland in November 1641 did not help, Catholics rising against their Protestant overlords and some claimed to be acting in the name of Charles. A propaganda disaster.
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Was it the issue of Army control?

  • Irish Rebellion in November 1641 brought this issue to the fore, as it raised question of whether Charles was responsible with an Army.
  • From then on it played a part in negotations, included in Grand Remonstrance Nov 1641 and inspiring Milita Bill Dec 1641 which was defeated in the Lords.
  • The right of a King to lead his army into battle was a fundamental one and is arguable what began to split Parliament, some thinking Pym's ideas too radical.
  • Charles use of force during the Five Members Coup Jan 1642 again made military issues poignant, inspiring the Militia Ordinance of March 1642, passed without Royal consent, which placed militia, arsenals and fortresses under Parliamentary control. This was becoming a process of militarisation, making civil war almost inevitable.
  • Charles' reviving of Commissions of Array in summer 1642 was his hand in the military game. Enabled the mobilisation of an army on both sides and made civil war possible.
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