The English Civil War: military overview

Civil War in England, Wales and Scotland between King and Parliament

The flashpoint for the outbreak of the English Civil War between King Charles the First and the Long Parliament was the question of control of an army to defeat the Irish Uprising of 1641. As political dialogue broke down, both sides rallied their supporters and issued orders to raise troops. Open conflict broke out after the King raised the royal battle standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. Parliament appointed the Earl of Essex commander of all its forces. The first pitched battle of the war at Edgehill in October 1642 was indecisive. The King lost control of London to Parliament and set up the Royalist capital at Oxford.

During 1643, major theatres of war developed in Yorkshire and the West Country while the King maintained a central army at Oxford. Peace negotiations were attempted but broke down, though neither side could deliver a decisive military blow. The King sought reinforcements from troops stationed in Ireland; Parliament negotiated a religious and military alliance with the Covenanters in Scotland. The Scottish invasion of 1644 was a major turning point in the war, culminating in the defeat of Prince Rupert at the battle of Marston Moor and the fall of York, which ended Royalist power in the north of England. However, Parliament became divided over the conduct of the war. Supported by the Scots, Presbyterian politicians and officers called for a negotiated settlement with the King, while the Independent faction insisted upon pursuing an outright military victory. The Independents secured a major re-organisation of the Parliamentarian army, resulting in the formation of the New Model Army in 1645.

Under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, the New Model Army inflicted a decisive defeat on the Royalists at the battle of Naseby on 14 June 1645. The war dragged on for another year, but the Royalists had no realistic chance of victory after Naseby. In May 1646, King Charles surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark with the intention of exploiting divisions between the Parliamentarians and their allies.

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or move on to the next overview in the Military thread: the Second Civil War