The disagreement between Cavaliers and Roundheads was not a simple conflict between the ‘toffs’ and the ‘hoi polloi’. What divided the two sides was religion and politics. Puritan Roundheads supported Parliament while traditional Protestants - together with the few Catholics - supported the monarchy.
Tensions arose during King Charles I ‘personal rule’ between 1629 and 1640, when he governed the country without Parliament. People feared that with no Parliament to restrain him, Charles might convert England back to Catholicism and remove his subjects' ‘rights and liberties'.
Things came to a head in 1640, when the king recalled Parliament in order to help him raise money for an army to take on the rebelling Scots. Parliament seized political control and passed a number of laws limiting the king’s power. Enraged, Charles marched into the house with a band of soldiers demanding the arrest of five "traitorous" MPs. His plan backfired and the MPs escaped.
The public mood in London was very hostile to the king and he abandoned the city. Riots and demonstrations led some to fear Roundheads would destroy the social order and concern about the activities of supporters or parliament, helped Charles rally enough followers to create an army.
In 1642, England descended into civil war. The two sides battled across the country, but everything was settled at Naseby where the Roundhead's highly trained New Model Army, including cavalry led by Oliver Cromwell, finally crushed the king’s forces. The Cavailers surrendered in 1646, but after three more years of stalled negotiations and another civil war, Parliament took the unprecedented move of putting the king on trial for treason. Charles was found guilty and beheaded in January 1649.
Britain became a republic for the first time. This English ‘Commonwealth’ was short-lived and was replaced by a new constitution with Oliver Cromwell as the head of state and ‘Lord Protector’. Cromwell's government imposed strict puritanical rules, cracking down on public drinking and making Sunday a purely holy day. This proved deeply unpopular with many people.
When Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard ruled in his place, but he suffered from a lack of support from the army and sections of Parliament - the republic began to fall apart. Richard resigned and Parliament invited the Charles I's son to return and take the throne. The monarchy was restored in England with Charles II, but from that day forward, people would always question authority and advocate the power of Parliament.
The English Civil Wars and Quaker Persecution
The English Civil Wars began originally as a dispute over financial matters between the King of England (Charles I) and Parliament, but the underlying issue of this time, concerned the religion of the nation, which at the time included Scotland, Ireland, and part of North America. The Parliament consisted mostly of Protestant middle-class gentries and merchants. They did not believe in the King’s proposal of religious standardization that he tried to enforce on the entire nation. The proposal was the catalyst for two wars between Scotland and England from years of 1638-1640, as well as a larger divide between the King and Parliament.
The events of these years led to a split in the nation over alliances. Those who supported the King were known as Royalists (or Cavaliers). This group was made up of higher-class citizens who respected social organization and solidity, as well as the King’s High Anglican beliefs. The opposing group, the so-called Roundheads, was made up of middle-class citizens who did not support a social hierarchy and were considered Puritans (a derogatory term at the time for radical reformers). By 1647, the English Civil War was under way.
The war between Scotland and England raged for the next five years. In 1649 Charles I was eventually convicted of treason and beheaded by the Parliament of England. As the right of the throne of England passed on to Charles II, an idea supported by both Ireland and Scotland, the Royalist English army was decisively defeated by the Roundheads. The monarchy of England was abolished, and a Commonwealth created. It was not until nine years later that Charles II returned from exile and resumed the monarchy of England.
During this war, actually driven by economic concerns, many religious radical groups were forming among the Roundheads. One of the most important groups was formed in 1650, and was later dubbed the “Quakers.” This religious movement held that the presence and grace of God was inside of everyone; they felt no need for elaborate church services, priests, or offerings of any kind. The Quakers also believed in the equality of men and women well ahead of their time. The lack of gender hierarchy in their religion led to others in the English nation to perceive them as a threat to their social and political structure.
The Quaker beliefs threatened the privileged in a way that no other dissenting group did. Their refusal to acknowledge the higher-class as superior to them caused widespread hatred for this evangelistic group. Word began to spread about the Quakers being witches, blasphemers, and heretics. The Quakers preached against the war and refused to take oaths to anyone but God, threatening the authority of the public army. They began to interrupt church services, until laws were passed to stop them; this began the tradition of speaking after the services. Officials persecuted the Quakers, imprisoning and torturing them, for their religious beliefs. It was thought that they would try to over take the government.
This persecution caused some Quakers to immigrate to places such as the American colonies, but there still remained a large population of Quakers in Europe. These people viewed the imprisonment, the torture, and the hardships as suffering that they enjoyed spiritually as their payment to God. This persecution, immigration, and acceptance of suffering began to slow down around the 1670s, but did not completely die until around the beginning of the 18th century. This concluded over fifty years of persecution brought on by the religious intolerance of a scared nation.
“English Civil War.” The Encyclopedia of Britain. 10th ed. 1993.
- - - . The Encyclopedia of Religion and War. 4th ed. 2004.