The causes of the English Civil War.
What were the causes of the English Civil War?
The English Civil War was sparked by a flawed religious policy which had the effect of reviving an older constitutional crisis. The reigns of James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649) created combustible political conditions in the British Isles that were ignited by short-term factors after 1639.
Constitutional conflict between Parliament and Crown had been an endemic feature of Stuart rule (Coward, 1994; 133-134, 151-152). Charles I held a strong belief in his divine right to govern. This clashed with the idea of consent within the political nation as represented by Parliament. Charles I suspended Parliament from 1629-1640, preferring to rule through arbitrary mechanisms which ensured that political tensions remained simmering. Charles I had tried to raise revenue by means such as the ‘Ship Money’ tax of 1635, but without Parliamentary consent this proved difficult to collect.
Charles I’s arbitrary rule may not have resulted in a civil conflagration had he not pursued an inconsiderate religious policy. His appointment of Bishop Laud, who attempted to introduce elements of quasi-Catholic High Anglican worship, incensed English puritans (Royle, 2004; 22). More significantly, the introduction of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in 1637 was disastrous in a primarily Presbyterian religious culture. It resulted in a Scottish army invading England in 1639.
Charles I needed money to repel the invasion and was forced to recall Parliament in 1640. However, rather than acquiescing to his demands, it naturally took a more critical and oppositional stance towards his rule. Charles I’s decision to enter Parliament in 1642, in a failed attempt to arrest five of its most critical MPs, was the most significant short-term factor that prompted the civil war. It shattered his relationship with Parliament (Bennett, 1997; 107), and created a political schism that could only be settled through war.
Bennett, M. The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland, 1638-1651. Oxford: Blackwell.
Coward, B. 1994. The Stuart Age. England, 1603-1714. London: Longman.