In the middle of 17th century England experienced a great convulsion of political and military violence, which quickly spread to engulf Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This was a true civil war, in which men and women at all levelsof society, somethimes even withinthe same family, took different sides on issues of principle, and fought for them to the death. Here are some of the key figures on both sides, apart from King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.
Henrietta was a French princess, ‘a lady of a haughty spirit and a great wit and beauty.’ She and Charles became greatly attached to each other and the Queen’s lively and imperious spirit was seen by many as a major influence in the making of the royal absolutism. When war came, Henrietta Maria showed herself indomitably courageous, travelling abroad to cultivate friends, raise funds and procure supplies, and then leading Royalist forces in the field. Her last parting from Charles I was at Abingdon, on 3 April 1644; thereafter, the Queen was forced to watch the unfolding of Charles’ tragedy, and the seemingly hopeless years of Parliamentary supremacy, from her native France. She paid two visits to England after the Restoration.
Prince Rupert was the nephew of Charles I. He cut a romantic figure — extravagantly dashing in appearance and style, usually accompanied by the pet dog and monkey to which he seemed more attached than human friends, and astonishingly varied in his interests and achievements — he was a founder member of the Royal Society, and a pioneer of the art of copper engraving. But above all he was a professional soldier, hugely experienced in warfare, deemed capable of commanding a regiment at the age of fourteen, and particularly noted for his reckless daring as a cavalry commander. In the early battles of the Civil War, Rupert’s cavaliers swept all before them — sometimes leaving their infantry behind in exposed situations! It was not until Cromwell had organised the Parliamentary cavalry into a force of matching strength and superior steadiness — the Ironsides — that Rivert’s star began to wane. He fought at Worcester, Edgehill, Brentford, Chalgrove, Newbury, Bolton, Marston Moor, Newbury again, and Naseby. He surrendered to Fairfax at Oxford in June 1646.
A man of great sensitivity and high integrity, Falkland represented within himself the dilemma that faced England during the Civil War. He sat in the two Parliaments of 1640, when he opposed the extremes of Charles I’s personal rule; but he felt ultimately bound to support the King as his lawful sovereign — even though he doubted Charles’ good faith. Spirited and sophisticated as he was, the crude savagery of war was agony to him, and it seems possible that he was suffering from something resembling a death-wish when, having received Communion and dressed himself in clean linen, he flung himself away in a gallant but fruitless charge against Parliamentarian musketeers at the first battle of Newbury in 1643.
It was a tragedy for King Charles that he should alienate a man like John Hampden, and for the Parliamentary cause that Hampden should be killed in battle so early in the war. Hampden was a Buckinghamshire gentleman whose practical integrity and clear-minded, reasonable defence of legality against the King’s irregular procedures propelled him to the front of the Parliamentary opposition during the 1630s. He was one of the five members whose attempted seizure by Charles 1642 may be said to have precipitated the Civil War. He then subscribed a large sum of money for the raising of Parliamentary troops, took a colonel’s commission, and fought bravely at Edgehill and Reading, before being mortally wounded at Chalgrove Field on 18 June 1643. The struggle between King and Parliament was to plumb depths of unprincipled brutality the years after Hampden’s death, but his moderate, tolerant style of constitutionalism was to triumph in the end.
`The most popular man, and the most able to do hurt that hath lived in any time.’ He was a passionate believer in the importance of legality, and it was this which made him oppose the royal absolutism and, after the outbreak of war, act as prime mover behind the Committee of Safety which was established to coordinate the efforts of the Parliamentary rebels. He played a crucial role in motivating the citizens of London to support the Parliamentary cause, at a time. when the King was winning successes in the field and seemed likely to carry all before him, and he also worked hard — with results that were eventually to prove of critical significance — to bring about an alliance between the English Parliament and the Scots Covenant. Pym embodied the principle of the rule of law: ‘The law is that which puts a difference betwixt good and evil, betwixt just and unjust. If you take away the law, all things will fall into a confusion. Every man will become a law to himself.’
Thomas and his father Ferdinando Fairfax were the principal leaders of the Parliamentary forces in Yorkshire during the early stages of the Civil War. Thoughtful, judicious and humane in his management both of his own troops and of civilians. Fairfax did much to generate self-respect and strength of purpose in the New Model Army which he created together with Oliver Cromwell. He played a major part in the Parliamentary victory at Marston Moor in July 1644, and took the New Model to victory again at Naseby in 1645. He was increasingly unhappy with the drift of political events thereafter and was opposed to the execution of the King. ‘When Oxford was surrendered, the first thing General Fairfax did was to set a good guard of soldiers to protect the Bodleian library … he was a lover of learning and had he not taken this special care, that noble library had been utterly destroyed.’