Road to War – from Parliament to Edge hill.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36I am currently feeling slightly out of kilter time wise as I have classes running on topics ranging from Kathryn Swynford to the English Civil War with a side interest in the names on my local war memorial – the research for which in the hundredth anniversary is proving fascinating.  I almost feel that I should do more blogs to give every area of History an airing!

So with that in mind – I shall post today about 1642.  1641 had not been a tremendously good year for King Charles I.  He had to call Parliament when he managed to mislay Northumberland and Durham into the hands of the Scots.  In August he was required to go to Edinburgh and give the Covenanters virtually everything they demanded which in turn contributed to the Irish Rebellion which like a domino toppling over onto its neighbour resulted in John Pym taking the opportunity of attacking the king and also his queen.

By January 1642 Charles I was prepared for an extremely ill-advised move against Pym and his associates.  His plan to arrest them in Parliament on the 4th January was leaked, as I’ve posted before, by Lady Carlisle who was one of Henrietta Maria’s favourites.  Charles famously discovered that the birds had flown and that most of London was up in arms about the king’s abuse of his rights.  Charles probably wasn’t terribly mused when the five men – Pym, Holles, Hampden, Haselrig and Strode returned to Westminster on the 11th of January to a heroes welcome.

The following day Charles and his family left Hampton Court for Windsor. Across the country petitions were drawn up and rumours began to circulate. One rumour said that  the Danes were going to invade whilst a more local rumour in Norwich stated that those pesky Puritans were going to destroy Norwich Cathedral’s organ.  The result of the clergy setting a guard over their prized musical instrument was a riot whilst, during August,  in Kidderminster a group of Puritans really did attempt to make the church less catholic in its ornament – and yes there was another riot.  The situation across the country was unsettled to put it mildly.  Neighbours began to look askance at one another. The threat of violence and sectarianism wasn’t far from the surface although at this stage in proceedings allegiances had not been firmly settled upon.

Meanwhile at Windsor the Stuarts had come up with a cunning plan.  Henrietta Maria was going to accompany her daughter, ten-year-old Mary to Holland – ostensibly the princess royal was going to join her spouse and Henrietta Maria was going as a doting mother. More practically the queen was going to buy munitions and mercenaries.  The family made their farewells at Dover in February 1642.  Charles’ nephew Prince Rupert turned up to thank his uncle for helping him gain his freedom.  In private he offered Uncle Charles his support which was a bit rich as his elder brother was in Whitehall at the time assuring anyone who would listen that the European Stuarts would stay neutral.

Charles collected his eldest son and headed north where he believed he would receive more support.  He entered York on the 19th March.  The king and Parliament spent several weeks firing missives and ordinances at one another which both sides rejected.  Parliament also became concerned that the arsenal at Hull was a bit too close to Charles for comfort so petition that it should be removed to The Tower.  Charles is confident that the Governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham is a good and upstanding royalist unfortunately although young Prince James receives a warm welcome on 22 April his father finds the gates of the town shut against him  on the 23rd.  Hull is promptly besieged.

In London trained bands of militia go through their drills and Parliament reserves the right to call on the militia – which is a bit difficult as Charles refuses to agree to that particular idea.  This ultimately means that every county receives two versions of a commission of array demanding armed men to take the field – one commission is for parliament whilst the other is for the king.  By June both Parliament and the King are recruiting men.  Not only that but suddenly there is a bit of a contest over fortified locations, magazines and strong points.  There is also a drive for financial aid. Charles expedited matters somewhat in York by setting up a mint.

The gentry from across the country meet to write petitions and gather signatures.  The petitions that are favourable to Charles, he kept – the rest he ignored. Derby sent two – the first asked him very politely to return to his Parliament. The most famous presentation of a petition occurred on June 3rd when Charles rode out to Heyworth Moor to receive a demonstration of loyalty from the gentlemen of Yorkshire. Thomas Fairfax who will go on to become a parliamentary general tries to present a petition to the king and is almost ridden down for his pains.  Petitions and letters continue to be swapped in a bid to avert civil strife but at the end of June Charles attempts to take control of the fleet by writing personalised letters to each of his captains.  The fleet declares for Parliament and the earl of Warwick is appointed as High Admiral.

Meanwhile Hull is still under siege and on July 12 the king leaves York and goes to Newark.  He also visits Lincoln before returning to Beverley.  He then travels down through the Midlands.

The time for the war of paper is almost over.  Parliament start appointing committees of public safety and in August passes an ordinance stating that the customs fees that have previously been paid to the king must now be paid to Parliament.  Regiments muster in different counties and batteries are raised.  Dover Castle is taken by surprise on the 21st of August by forces loyal to Parliament.  Despite this momentous event the metaphorical trail of gunpowder does not reach the powderkeg until the following day – and at the time, its something of a damp squib.

On August 22nd 1642, King Charles I raises the royal standard at Nottingham.  There is no fanfare.  England is officially at war with itself. Even now war could have been averted. The Privy Council insist that the king sends a conciliatory letter to both of the houses of parliament.  The Earl of Southampton takes the letter to the Lords where he is jeered at.  Sir John Culpeper who takes the other letter to the House of Commons is not permitted to give it to the house.  Part of the reason for this was that Parliament was much more organised in terms of recruiting and arming men for its cause.

There is rather a lot of marching around on both sides and some manoeuvring in Manchester which I’m going to ignore for the time being.  Prince Rupert turns up at Leicester and writes the mayor a very forthright letter threatening to raze the place to the ground unless a large sum of money is handed over.  This makes excellent propaganda for Parliament so Charles makes Rupert write a second letter to the mayor apologising for the content of the first one.  It should be noted that the money remained in the king’s hands.

On the 13th September King Charles marches from Nottingham to Derby.  He advances on Shrewsbury whilst Prince Rupert goes to visit Worcester which he finds indefensible.  It is at the point that he encounters some Parliamentarians  at Powick Bridge.  There is fisticuffs and it usually described as the first major encounter of the war – which in truth is a bit of an overstatement but  since Rupert won, it gave the royalists a boost and they insisted on going on about it at length-hence its place in the History books.

On the 12th October Charles left Shrewsbury to march on London. The royalist army has grown during this time but Charles is now reduced to selling titles in order to refuel his piggybank. By the 17th he is in Birmingham and on the 21st the king is in Edgcote.

The 23 October 1642 – The Battle of Edgehill.  The reasons for the battle are fairly straightforward, Charles wanted to get to London whilst the parliamentary general – in the shape of the Earl of Essex, needed to stop him from pursuing that idea.  Essex had been all over the country at this point and even on the 22nd he didn’t have an exact notion as to where Charles was because of ineffective communications. Somehow or the other both armies managed to end up in reasonable proximity to one another.  The king held the ridge at Edgehill but it couldn’t be said that the royalist army got into position quickly.  Prince Rupert was in place with his cavalry at daybreak but by the time the two armies actually got into striking distance of one another it was 2pm.  In part this was because Essex simply refused to attack up a steep hill – so the royalists had to march down.  The battle took the form of an hour long cannonade, a fight over the hedges and a cavalry charge or two. Prince Rupert demonstrated for the first time his tendency to ride straight through the battle and go for the backlines.  On this occasion he came across some fresh parliamentarian forces at the village of Kniveton, had a brief skirmish then turned his men around and headed back to the main battle rather than continuing to do his own thing which usually involved getting to grips with the baggage train.  In two hours each army fought the other to a standstill.  By then it was getting dark and the chaos of battle was confused by the the darkness of night.  Military historians describe it as a draw but practically it left the way open to London so the Earl of Essex  failed in his purpose meaning that by default the victory at Edgehill went to the king.

Essex retired to Warwick.

If Charles had marched on London he would have retaken his capital.  In medieval terms the person who controlled the capital was usually the person who ultimately won the war.  In 1642 Charles would have probably been able to take control of the fleet and he would definitely have had a larger population to tax so that he could have continued to fight Parliament.  Rupert advised his uncle to ride for London immediately but Charles was concerned about the fact that London was hostile to him.  There were also the trained bands of London militia to consider.

In November Rupert reached Brentford which he fired and plundered.  Londoners fearful of suffering a similar fate put 6,000 trained apprentices in the field and a further 24,000 Londoners took up arms. The Londoners led by the earl of Essex and the king’s army stood face to face at Turnham Green in Chiswick.  Charles eventually withdrew not wishing to be responsible for the loss of so much life.

Whilst John Pym spent the rest of the year working out how to tax people so that Parliament could pay its army, a party for peace would propose a settlement in February 1643.  The proposed Treaty of Oxford would have seen parliament called every three years, the abolition of bishops with everything else remaining in the king’s power – though he would have had to have consulted with parliament.

I suspect that I ought to post about the Earl of Essex next.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Road to War – from Parliament to Edge hill.

  1. Sir Kevin Parr , Baronet.

    My lot lost their all fighting to save the neck of that King of blood. Six Years in France because of him.If I had my say Cromwell was right all the way. We need not a Royal to live off us. taxation raging to to feed a civil list and 30 million a year to keep hangers one in Buck House. They are not in charge even. Just live well for nothing and look good on what we lack. .History gives us all this information and we should use it wisely and become a republic again. Cromwell may have had his faults, we all do, but he gave us a navy that ruled the waves he brought in trade with India and developed a trading Empire. He failed us not and when Charles arrived back in 1660 first thing he did to claim the navy as Royal.It is strong belief Britain is seeing the last days of Royalty and will be better for it. Gone the days we fought alongside a King to war with enemy. A King that headed the affray. As we are not the greedy sods anymore and war is only the sport of Kings why have them as we are now grown up and need them never. I will bow the knee to no man only to God the almighty. We stand at the edge of a cliff on EU matters we are the people of England who have not spoken yet.When we do the very earth shall shake.without a king to argue. Or shout WAR.

    • JuliaH

      It turns out that one of my husband’s forefathers rather unfortunately sold off all the family lands to support the king’s campaign – demonstrating great loyalty but not necessarily a great deal of common sense.

  2. Sir Kevin Parr , Baronet.

    Mind you I have read your missive twice. Good show

    • JuliaH

      Merci Beaucoup. There’s lots to get your teeth into this period – even though you may end up shaking your head and contemplating the general stupidity of mankind.

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