Charles I (above left) had strong ideas about how a king should rule. He believed that the king was the most powerful person in the kingdom who should always decide what happened and what laws should be passed. Charles was married to a French princess Henrietta Maria (above right). They had three sons (Charles, James and Henry) and four daughters (Mary, Elizabeth, Anne and Henrietta).
Portrait busts of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, by Robert van Voerst, 1641.
Charles I often argued with Parliament about religion, taxes and the army. In 1629 Charles closed Parliament and said only the king could make new laws. Parliament did not meet again until 1640. This new Parliament soon started to argue with the king again. In January 1642 Charles went to the Houses of Parliament to arrest five members he thought were criticizing him. One of them was John Pym (above). However, the men were warned and had already left when the king arrived. During the Civil War, Pym helped to organize money to pay the Parliamentarian soldiers. He died in 1643 before the end of the War.
Portrait of John Pym, etching, 1630s.
During spring 1642 it became clear that the king and Parliament were not going to stop arguing. Cities and towns began to take sides; some supported the king, others supported Parliament. In August 1642 Charles I (above on horseback) raised his royal flag at Nottingham. This meant that Charles was now going to fight Parliament with his army. The English Civil War had started. Fighting took place during three shorter wars with periods of peace in between.
Anti-Jacobite broadside with an equestrian portrait of Charles I accompanied by Monsieur de St Antoine, London, c. 1745.
The Royalist Sir Bevil Grenville (above) was a wealthy landowner in Cornwall. He became a Member of Parliament in 1621 but had to leave Parliament in 1642 because he supported Charles I. During the First Civil War, Grenville raised his own regiment of 1,200 soldiers to fight for the king. He was wounded on 4 July 1643, at the Battle of Lansdown (near Bath) and died the next day.
Gold locket containing the miniature of the Royalist hero, Sir Bevil Grenville(1596-1643).
Throughout the Civil War, people were worried that soldiers might seize their money and so they buried their belongings to keep them safe. This hoard of coins (above) was buried in Wales. It was worth £51 and 9 shillings; enough to pay fifty soldiers for a month or buy two tons of cheese. The first part of the Civil War lasted until 1646 when Charles I was captured and later imprisoned on the Isle of Wight.
The Tregwynt Hoard, buried around 1648.
In December 1647, while still imprisoned, Charles I secretly asked the Scots to help him fight Parliament. In 1648 the fighting started again. During this Second Civil War the town of Colchester (above) was under siege for two months. The Parliamentarian soldiers camped outside the town walls and built small forts. Inside the town, the Royalist troops and the townspeople soon ran out of food. When the Royalists heard that the king’s supporters and the Scots had been defeated in the North of England at the Battle of Preston, they surrendered and Parliament took control of the town.
Bird's eye view of Colchester with the besieging Parliamentarian forces surrounding it, c.1650.
During the English Civil War, some of Charles’s family came to England to help him fight. One of these was his nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine (above). Rupert fought in the cavalry. He took his white poodle, who was called Boye, into battle with him. Rupert survived the war and later served in the royal navy under his cousin king Charles II.
Stoneware portrait bust of Prince Rupert (1619-1682) made at the factory of John Dwight (d. 1703) and probably modelled by Edward Pearce (d.1695).
After his defeat in the Second Civil War, Parliament put Charles I on trial and declared him a traitor. Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649 in Whitehall, London (above). He wore an extra layer of clothing so that he did not shiver. He was worried that people would think he was shaking with fear. His eldest son Charles became the next king. However, Charles was not able to have a coronation because Parliament controlled London and the crown jewels. Parliament said that there were not going to be any more kings. So fighting continued between the two sides.
Orthogonal plan of the façade of Inigo Jones' Banqueting Hall. c.1680/5.
This gold ring opens to reveal a portrait of Charles I (above). Many bits of jewellery with a hidden picture of the king were made after Charles was executed in 1649. Once Oliver Cromwell had won the war, this ring was probably worn by a Royalist who wanted to keep their support for the king secret. It is also possible that the ring was given to a Royalist by Charles’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria so that if the Royalists won, the wearer could show that they had supported the king.
Gold finger-ring, containing enamelled portrait of Charles I
The Third Civil War was between Charles II and Parliament. The last battle of the Civil War took place near Worcester in September 1651. Charles II’s army was defeated. Charles became a wanted man and a reward of £1000 was offered to anybody who found him. Charles’s family and the royal court had already escaped to France. It took Charles six weeks to get to the south coast to board a ship to join them. During his escape Charles wore a disguise and used pretend names. Once he had to hide in an oak tree for a day while Parliamentary troops searched the surrounding woods.
Earthenware dish depicting Charles II hiding in oak tree, flanked by lion and unicorn.
One of the main leaders of the Parliamentary army was Oliver Cromwell (above). Before the English Civil War, Cromwell was a Member of Parliament for Cambridgeshire. He did not agree with Charles I about religion or how to rule the country. He began the War as the leader of a group of Parliamentary cavalry and finished the war as the leader of the whole Parliamentarian army. After the death of Charles I, Cromwell was invited to become the next king. He refused and instead ruled as Lord Protector. During his rule Britain was known as The Commonwealth.
Wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell.
When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 his son Richard (above) was declared the next ruler. Richard was not a strong or confident ruler so Parliament invited Charles II to come back and be crowned king. Charles agreed. Richard Cromwell left England and travelled around Europe for the next 20 years before coming back to live in Hertfordshire. He died in 1712 at the age of 85. Charles II ruled as king until his death in 1685 when his brother James became the next king.
Portrait of Richard Cromwell.