The Second Civil War: political overview

After his defeat in the First Civil War, King Charles' ill-fated attempt to make his own alliance with the Scots results in military defeat and regicide

Woodcut depicting King Charles I as a prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight

The inconclusive ending to the First Civil War in 1646 led to political turmoil during 1647. King Charles the First had surrendered to the Scots but he was handed over to the English Parliament in January 1647 following the breakdown of treaty negotiations at Newcastle.

The Presbyterian faction in Parliament was anxious to reach a settlement with the King and attempted to disband the New Model Army before addressing the soldiers' complaints over arrears of pay and other grievances. This resulted in the radicalization of the New Model Army during 1647 and its emergence as a political force independent of Parliament.

In the summer of 1647, King Charles was taken into the Army's custody. The Army then occupied London to intimidate its Presbyterian opponents in the House of Commons. Close associations were formed between Army radicals and civilian Levellers. During October and November 1647, discussions were held between the radicals, the Levellers and the high command to formulate a plan for the future constitution of England.

Meanwhile, negotiations to reach a settlement between King and Parliament continued. Although he remained a prisoner, King Charles exploited divisions between the various factions, while secretly plotting to gain military help from abroad. In December 1647, he signed the "Engagement" with the Scots, in which he promised to impose Presbyterianism in England for a period of three years in exchange for a Scottish army to regain his throne. This resulted in the short but bitterly-fought Second Civil War in 1648.

The Engager army was crushed by Cromwell at the battle of Preston; Royalist uprisings in Kent and Essex were suppressed by Fairfax. The Army leadership issued a Remonstrance denouncing King Charles for deliberately inflicting a second war upon the nation. Directed by Ireton, the Army carried out a purge of the House of Commons in December 1648. MPs who wanted to continue negotiations with the King were excluded or arrested. The MPs remaining in the purged Parliament implemented the Army's design to bring King Charles to trial as an enemy of the People.

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